Running Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Stars: CeeLo Green, Catherine Keener, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld
Director: John Carney
Movie review begins beneath the video trailer.
The Irish writer-director takes us on a similarly redemptive journey through music here, but this time he populates his cast with big names. Sometimes those iconic figures (I'm talking to you, Adam Levine) get in the way of the story, causing Begin Again to fall short, but that doesn't keep the picture from being a sweet, feel-good summer treat that's satisfying and fun to sit through.
Keira Knightley (Oscar-nominated for Pride & Prejudice) stars as Gretta, a British singer-songwriter who comes to New York City with her boyfriend, Dave (Levine, just as we know him from TV's The Voice). Dave has landed a recording contract, but during one of his first road gigs, he cheats on Gretta, who promptly makes plans to return to England. Before she leaves, though, she heads to a nightclub with her pal Steve, then reluctantly takes to the open-mike stage when he beckons. (Knightley's singing voice, purposely wobbly, is in fact appealingly good.)
Among the few clubgoers paying attention to Gretta's performance is Dan (sexy Mark Ruffalo), a washed-up music exec who hasn't discovered a new talent in years. Mesmerized by Gretta's voice, his mind summons various musical instruments to life, one by one, to accompany her singing. It's a small masterpiece of imagination — and a very cool scene.
Naturally, Gretta and Dan get together — but not as you might predict. With funding from a former client, a rapper named Troublegum (CeeLo Green), Dan records Gretta and a handful of backing musicians in outdoor locales around Manhattan, with the street noises becoming part of the songs.
You can see the happy ending coming, right? Dan restores Gretta's sense of self. And Gretta, who befriends Dan's estranged teenage daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld of True Grit), helps her mentor reclaim his role as a family man and husband to Miriam (an underutilized Catherine Keener).
Some of the story lines stretch believability, yet Begin Again always feels fresh. Knightley and Ruffalo are easy on the eyes, the cityscapes are artfully shot, and though the lyrics may be clichéd, the musical current will carry you along on a buoyant ride.
Meg Grant is West Coast editor of AARP The Magazine.