Tuesday, July 8, 2014

'Begin Again' (2014) directed by John Carney

Begin Again is a lovely salad with a big lump of shit sitting proudly in the middle of it.  Sure the shit is only touching a tiny bit of the salad, but you're sure as hell not going to be eating anything on that plate.  

The film revolves around Dan (Mark Ruffalo) and Greta (Keira Knightley).  Dan, channelling the rumpled, acerbic carelessness of a Groundhog Day era Bill Murray, is a fallen star record producer / A&R man.  He rolls around New York drunk off his tits in a vintage black Jaguar with a strangely canine aura to him.  This is a Mark Ruffalo you could imagine spotting behind the bars of the local dog pound, looking sorry for himself, whining and pawing at his cage.  Naturally his personal life is a complete shambles, with a distant, troubled daughter and exasperated wife viewing him with outright contempt.  After being sacked from his job and bopped in the face by an angry bouncer he hits rock bottom, contemplating jumping in front of a subway train and ending this miserable existence.  But first another drink, so he stops in a bar where he finds...

Greta! Greta is a precision-tooled objet d'indie girl - from her casually tied back, shampoo ad glossy hair to her very on trend patterned summer dresses.  She plays a beaten up acoustic guitar almost bent double over it, as if she's really, really into the music, man. She's a British girl in New York, having arrived as the girlfriend of Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) an indie superstar who is currently in the process of blowing up (unfortunately not literally). Their picture perfect relationship is shattered when Kohl starts banging a sexy A&R girl and Greta proceeds to mope around the city looking attractively wan and miserable, guitar in hand.

Greta plays a song in a bar that touches Dan, the two become friends and Dan's creative juices start flowing as he devises a new type of album - one entirely recorded on the actual streets of New York City!  Soon the two are collecting various musicians, writing songs, recording and engaging in cute indie montages where they wander around smiling and listening to their music collections.  As the album begins to come together, so do their fractured lives - the pair almost literally healed by the divine power of guitar led indie.  Isn't music a wonderful thing?

It really is.  But oh boy, not here.  I'm going to bang on about how crappy the music in Begin Again is for quite a bit now, but if you want to skip that I can summarise what's wrong with this film with one simple point: the lead singer of Maroon 5 has a large role in the movie. Maroon 5. For FUCK'S sake.  I mean... listen to this (not all of it obviously that would be insane):

(my blood boils over at precisely 02:45)

I'm really sorry I subjected you to that.  But goddamn that's bad....

This is the lump of shit in the otherwise alright salad: the music in Begin Again really, really, really sucks.  It's flaccid, over-produced, syrupy indie rock sung by oh-so-deep wankers in flannel shirts perched atop stools in depopulated prick-bars.  This is music devoid of passion, imagination and feeling, made so much worse by the fact that these musicians consider themselves painfully authentic.  As they incessantly drone on like delicate little flowers about their feelings, staring off into the middle distance with big doe eyes I wanted to jump into the movie screen, smash their bloody acoustic guitars over their heads and put on some Extreme Noise Terror or maybe a bit of hard acid techno.

I really hate this man.
As they go on to produce Greta's atrocious album they rope in a gaggle of musicians who proceed to fanny around on top of buildings in porkpie hats creating the kind of sludgy brainless acoustic whiffle that you'd generally expect to find as muzak in your local branch of Starbucks.  Then, through furrowed, confused brows, we watch as everyone in the film simpers over how great it is.  "Greta, your album is amazing!" they breathlessly intone.  "No! It's shit shitty shit shit!" I (inwardly) heckled back. 

For a film about the wonder, power and beauty of music to subject us to the guy from Maroon 5 repeatedly bleating his tortured little heart out feels like a particularly perverse form of torture.  It's especially cruel given that, aside from the music, everything else isn't all that bad.  Both Knightley and Ruffalo bring something neat to the table, there's a charismatic cameo from CeeLo Green and an appearance by an fascinatingly bearded Mos Def.   It's all framed and lit beautifully, with cinematographer Yaron Orbach finding a bewilderingly impressive number of ways to frame two people sitting next to each other listening to headphones. Even James Corden is likeable here!

But all that good stuff is for naught.  If you make a film about music where the music sucks then you're leaving port in a ship with a gaping hole in the side. Water is rushing in, people are futilely diving overboard, alarms are blaring, red lights are flashing. Eventually the boat keels over and vanishes beneath the waves.  There are no survivors.  


Begin Again is released July 11th

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