Definition of feeling conflicted: itching to see a film that features an actor in the lead who gives you chronic reflux.
Begin Again is written and directed by John Carney of Bachelors Walk, On the Edge, and Once semi-fame (his work in my order of merit). Mark Ruffalo turns up looking the worse for wear from the set of The Kids Are All Right as the ramshackled down-on-his-luck A&R scout. Other cast members include iconic New York, Catherine Keener, and Stevie Wonder on the soundtrack. What’s not to love?
Keira Knightley. An acting ironing board or a poor woman’s Natalie Portman? Credit to Carney for making me care less with the naturalistic performances he woos from his cast, and all round charm of this unabashed love letter to music. Even James Corden is mildly bearable.
But the best lines are reserved for the perenially watchable Ruffalo. “Even the most benign scene is invested with meaning”. He is sitting on night-time steps of Downtown Manhattan listening to Stevie Wonder absorbing the urban streetcape details unfolding all around. Flickering neons, walkers-by making walk-on cameos unbeknownst to them, big yellow taxis floating past.
Any casual wearer of ear-phones will relate. Your heart might overheat from the overwhelming resonance of someone describing something in a THAT’S IT! kinda way. Mine did. Put me on a train with a Blue Nile album and I’m directing my own epic scene by the time it pulls away from the station. If the camera were to pan away it would reveal the Enterprise rolling through the blandlands of Louth. But it’s all “chimney tops, the trumpets, golden lights, the loving prayers” through an aural lens.
Carney is set to add a third installment to his loose musical trilogy. Once propelled
him Glen Hansard onto the international scene but the director already had form in marrying the right tune with the emotion of a cinematic moment.
Smashing Pumpkins’ 1979 opens the overlooked ‘On the Edge’, introducing us to a troubled Cillian Murphy hovering over his Father’s coffin in a church before legging it on his bike to negotiate rushhour on South Circular Road; The Jam’s ‘Start’ zips alongside him through the neon lit streets in a stolen jamjar, before things slow down with The Frames’s Seven Day Mile when hope dances with possibility at a house party.
Still in the running for gong for best song in a closing scene is the finale of the first season of Bachelors Walk. The three flatmates are all out of luck. They gather on the sofa and sink into a silent sorrow to the best song on lost boyhood ever.
Next time on Striking the right note (part II) – best uses of music in non-John Carney films. And Morag will be here with embarrasing notes from my teenage crushes.