Carney's 'Begin Again' Doesn't Match His Hit 'Once'

Begin Again is the latest effort by John Carney. This film and his previous Once have so much in common that you can't help asking yourself, "Can lightning strike twice?"

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

John Carney is an Irish writer and director. He brought us the landmark film, "Once" - a small independent movie that became a Broadway musical blockbuster that won eight Tony's. Carney now has a new movie out and Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

KENNETH TURAN: "Begin Again" is an insistent puppy of a movie just about willing you to like it. You'd have to be a troll to resist it completely. But you may end up wanting to enjoy it more than you can. "Begin Again" is the latest effort by John Carney. Comparisons are always unfair, but this film and his previous "Once" have so much in common that you can't help asking yourself, can lightning strike twice? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Like "Once," "Begin Again" is an unapologetic fairytale centering on the transformative power of music. It's set in New York City and starts with a chance meeting between two individuals who are at low points in their lives. Greta, played by Keira Knightley, is a singer-songwriter in bad shape because her romantic life has crumbled. Dan, played by Mark Ruffalo, is a gifted record producer who is living apart from his family and has just been fired by the label he founded. Dan hears Greta play a song at an open mic night at a grungy Manhattan bar and is transfixed. He wants to record an album with her. But she's not sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BEGIN AGAIN")

MARK RUFFALO: (As Dan) You don't have a demo?

KEIRA KNIGHTLEY: (As Greta) No.

RUFFALO: (As Dan) Well, do you have Myspace or Facebook or anything?

KNIGHTLEY: (As Greta) Myspace? No. No, I don't. I just - I, you know, I told you I write songs from time to time.

RUFFALO: (As Dan) What do you write them for?

KNIGHTLEY: (As Greta) What do you mean what for? For my pleasure. And for my cat.

RUFFALO: (As Dan) Oh, really? Does he like them?

KNIGHTLEY: (As Greta) She. Yes, she seems to.

RUFFALO: (As Dan) How do you know?

KNIGHTLEY: (As Greta) Because she purrs.

TURAN: Knightley and Ruffalo unfortunately are coasting on their personas here more than acting. Their star quality makes the numerous contrivances needed to get that record made more obvious and harder to swallow than it was with the relative unknowns who start in "Once." Yet, just when you're ready to completely write off "Begin Again," the music starts to play. The camera takes it all in and makes us a part of it and the film's unpersuasive emotions don't seem to matter so much. Even if Dan and Greta charm each other more than they charm us, the music they make is harder to resist than they are.

GREENE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for the LA Times and for MORNING EDITION. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOST STARS")

KNIGHTLEY: (Singing) Please, don't see just a girl caught up in dreams and fantasies.

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