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'Once' With Feeling: Small Musical Has a Big Heart
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'Once' With Feeling: Small Musical Has a Big Heart

Arts & Life


Crocodiles in a bathtub could almost be the title of one of this summer's blockbuster films. Amid the big movies, our reviewer Kenneth Turan has discovered a little Irish film called "Once."

KENNETH TURAN: "Once" is about to come into your life and make it whole. It's an unpretentious slice of musical and romantic enchantment that's low-key in concept but completely winning in execution. It's also the first film in years to mix music and story in the light-fingered way Richard Lester did in the faster-paced Beatles classics.

(Soundbite of film, "Once")

Mr. GLEN HANSARD (Musician): (Singing) I don't know you but I want you all the more for that.

TURAN: The pleasures of "Once" start with a ton of richly melodic singer-songwriter music from Glen Hansard, lead singer of the Irish group The Frames, and Marketa Irglova, a young Czech musician he's collaborated with.

(Soundbite of film, "Once")

Ms. MARKETA IRGLOVA (Musician): (Singing) Are you really here or am I dreaming? I can't tell dreams from truth.

TURAN: Filmmaker John Carney, himself a former member of The Frames, had first thought of using Hansard only for his songwriting skills. But at a certain point he realized that the singer would be better than more polished actors could be.

Both Hansard and Irglova bring an unforced intimacy to the film that is one of its strengths. To watch their characters interact is to eavesdrop on some of life's smallest but most valuable moments.

(Soundbite of film, "Once")

Ms. IRGLOVA: (As Girl) There's such difference between me and him. He's so much different to me and so much older. It doesn't really work. I'm fine on my own, you know. It's just I don't want Evan(ph) to grow up without a father.

Mr. HANSARD: (As Guy) What's the Czech for do you love him?

Ms. IRGLOVA: (As Girl) (Czech spoken)

Mr. HANSARD: ((As Guy) (Czech spoken) so... (Czech spoken)

TURAN: "Once" opens with Hansard's nameless busker, or street musician, singing his heart out on the streets of Dublin. There he meets an equally nameless young woman who is also an impoverished musician. Naturally, they decide to make music together.

While all of this may sound obvious and even forced, it doesn't play that way. This film's plot may be romantic, but it is modern enough to avoid playing out the way audiences will anticipate. The music is so satisfying and the characters so appealing, "Once" makes us believe that this is all happening right in front of our eyes. We fall for each of these young people at the precise moment they are falling for each other - and what could be better than that?

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

(Soundbite of music)


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