Begin Again (2014)

Begin Again (2014)

This aggressively crappy rom-com starts out promisingly enough. Keira Knightley is dragged onstage by her folky friend. She sings a song. Then she leaves the stage convinced that she is a failure. But Mark Ruffalo, record company guy, is in the audience and loves the song. This could be the beginning of a beautiful movie. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

A pair of Rashomon style flashbacks show the audience how the characters came to this point. Ruffalo is a burnt-out former record company owner who drank his way out of a job. Knightley is the ditched girlfriend of an overnight pop sensation. Can Ruffalo climb back on top of the biz with newly minted star Knightley? Can Knightley get out of the shadow of her ex-boyfriend? And why should we care?

Knightley and Levine

Knightley sings well enough (is that really her voice? It sounds like maybe they had Jewel dub the songs) and Mark Ruffalo is charming, but the big problem is that the songs flat-out suck. Knightley’s songs are Taylor Swift pop garbage, and her ex-bf’s songs are Coldplay pop garbage. These people aren’t trying to take the industry by storm with an exciting new sound – they just seem to want a hit.

There’s absolutely nothing at stake here. They aren’t getting the band back together to save a church. They aren’t putting on a benefit concert to buy a new youth recreation center. Knightley’s character makes some noise about integrity and art for art’s sake, but if that’s the case, why is she writing such commercial pap? And in what cinema universe is a record company exec the good guy? Go see Crossover Dreams (1985) or One Trick Pony (1980) – the producer is supposed to be the bad guy. He tries to take the heartfelt work of a serious songwriter and water it down into commercial fluff. This time around they start out with commercial fluff, so there’s really nowhere for the music to go.

We're getting the band back together

It was also somewhat dismaying to see the Lower East Side dragged into a set-piece New York City rom-com montage. Arlene’s Grocery is now just another colorful romantic locale like a boat-ride in Central Park and a neon-lit stroll through Times Square.

It was nice to see Keira Knightley in a modern comedy, and Mark Ruffalo in a movie where he isn’t dying of AIDS or Hulking out. The supporting cast is good too – Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld, Mos Def – but next time someone give these talented people better material to work with.

Overall Score: 58
Letter Grade: C+