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What could either be a wonderful or horrifying film to double feature with the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, Begin Again stars Keira Knightley as Gretta, a British musician whose American dream was never realized, and Mark Ruffalo is just the ex-record executive who can change her life forever. Picture me saying that in the most life-affirming way possible, because that’s the kind of inflection this pic’s first trailer inspires. This is the seventh film from Once director John Carney, who seems to be trying to recapture that film’s acclaim by injecting a similarly music-heavy motif into a more generic story.
As trailers go, it’s pretty jarring, and the music is easily the worst part, bouncing the tone from indie comedy to inspirational studio drama to music biopic and back again. As Dan, Ruffalo exudes his usual charm as a music producer who sells his share of an indie record label to partner Saul (Mos Def/Yasiin Bey), coinciding with a downward turn in his life. He serendipitously heads to the bar where Gretta is singing her tunes, and a path is paved to presumed success in the creation of an album tusing New York as its setting. It's almost certainly therapy for Gretta, who was recently dumped by her musician boyfriend, played by Maroon 5’s leading man Adam Levine in his feature debut. And at the end of the trailer you’ll see hit maker Cee-Lo Green, Levine’s ex-co-judge on NBC’s The Voice.
There’s just something inauthentic about most of it, and I’m not sure if that’s solely the fault of the trailer, first revealed on The Today Show (via MTV). Certainly Begin Again doesn’t need to be gritty and depressing to feel real, but it’s all so banal. Maybe I’m falling into the trap of comparing it to Once, whose offbeat take on musical interludes felt more organic.
Begin Again premiered at TIFF last year (under its old name Can a Song Save Your Life) to generally good reviews, so I hope my harsher-than-necessary treatment of this trailer is a sign that darkness can always turn to light. It’s got a strong supporting cast, with Catherine Keener and Hailee Steinfeld as Dan’s respective estranged wife and daughter, and James Corden as Gretta’s best buddy. Drama and comedy, all wrapped up in the secondary actors. That’s how Begin Again works it.
You’ll be able to sway along to Gretta’s surefire hits when Begin Again plays your theater's open mic on July 4. First, here’s Adam Levine introducing a clip from the trailer on The Today Show.