John Carney who wrote and directed Once has created a more satisfying story with his latest movie release, Begin Again. Set in Greenwich Village, NYC, a burned-out music producer, Dan (played by Mark Ruffalo), rediscovers his creative muse in a fresh songwriter and voice from Bristol, England, Gretta (played by Keira Knightley). Carney has the knack to team up with talented songwriters for both this film (Gregg Alexander) and the earlier Once (Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova) so the film is worth seeing just for the musical numbers. The great views and the backdrops for the musical numbers, like the Washington Arch in Greenwich Village, the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, and the rooftop event space at West 36th Street, are joyfully an ode to New York City.
Begin Again is a story about a man and a woman discovering their creative muse through their love of music, each in their own way. Materialism and self-absorption are rejected, the artistic vocation is affirmed, and the importance of faithfulness in relationships is celebrated. For some critics these values are “corny”, but for me they are the heart of the romantic vision of life. Interestingly the plot pivots on an encounter on a subway train with an evangelist who asks Dan to try talking to God. “Will God hear me?” asks Dan getting off the train. Within minutes he is in a bar entranced by Gretta as she sings, “So you find yourself at this subway, with your world in a bag by your side”. The implication is that he is beginning to listen to God speaking to him through the music. Begin Again will not be on my list of the greatest movies of all time, but it is thoroughly enjoyable and the only one in recent years that I have seen twice at a theater (we accompanied some friends the second time).