Begin Again is 2013’s hushed, musically-charged indie romance starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo.
It’s about two screwed-over individuals: a young songwriter, Gretta (Knightley), recently cheated on by her rockstar boyfriend (Adam Levine — that Adam Levine — in his film debut), and a washed-up music producer, Dan (Ruffalo). Dan has a crumbling relationship with his ex-wife and daughter and has recently been fired from the record label he founded. Stumbling drunkenly into an East Village bar one night, Dan discovers Gretta at the mic: bared, fragile, singing about heartbreak.
Believing Gretta to be his big break, he asks her to sign to his label, which she refuses. After some convincing, she agrees to make an album, but only on her terms. Together they make an album that showcases the sounds of New York. They record live in the street, in public places, in alleyways, in parks. It’s cute, but it feels a little like a “making of” featurette for an indie album. Or a Coca Cola commercial.
I don’t know New York, but I have a hard time people are this congenial there, looking out of their windows, smiling warmly at a band playing in the alley. No one throws down his chicken bone screaming at them to shut up.
There are many great movies that tell New York City through the complex and interlocking stories of people in it — 2008’s New York, I Love You, 1989’s New York Stories, and the best, 1998’s The Cruise. In comparison, Begin Again feels easy, delicate, and a little flat. Knightley is getting really good at these smaller productions, opting for less attention-grabbing roles, but it’s possible for a film to be so gentle that it doesn’t leave a mark.