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The beauty of hard-won hope


Begin Again (M). Director: John Carney. Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, James Corden, Catherine Keener. 101 minutes.

Not too long ago I read this on a favourite blog of mine: ‘Today it starts all over again.’ Cheesy, perhaps, but potentially powerful as a reframing tool for someone who feels defeated by life. Rough-looking has-been Dan (Mark Ruffalo) has all the hallmarks of defeat down to the alcoholism and disregard for basic decorum. Ditched by the successful record company he founded with a friend, a stranger to his teenage daughter and separated from his wife of 18 years, he is a mess – and the mess keeps compounding as he jumps at the next opportunity for self-sabotage.

At heart, Dan is a brilliant musical mind starving for inspiration; not just the inspiration to create but also to simply get through a day sober. In a heart-to-heart with freshly devastated singer songwriter Gretta (Keira Knightley) he tells her the “pearls” are getting further and further apart on the ‘string’ of his life. 

Supportive Gretta and her singer boyfriend Dave arrived starry-eyed in New York a few months prior. They were greeted lavishly by the adoring record company who have just signed Dave. Things get rocky when the success goes to his head and their relationship becomes collateral damage. Maroon 5 front-man Adam Levine does a great job in this role, making Dave exceptionally dislikeable as he callously breaks Gretta’s heart in cruel, if not clichéd, fashion. In contrast, Knightley is eminently pleasant and relatable, allowing us to identify with her despair and the inevitability of hope in her story.

Broken and bruised by their respective journeys, Gretta and Dan seize the chance for solidarity. A friendship forms naturally through the film’s catalyst – a creative music project which sees Dan producing Gretta’s songs by recording them in unorthodox environments. For both, their sense of compassion and resilience allows them to navigate a cold and indifferent city that threatens to swallow them whole. They use the creation of music as a mirror to reflect back a version of themselves – and NYC – that they can love. The process and the product are both lovely to behold.

Begin Again is about focusing on the possibilities for the future even while the whitewash of the last storm is still receding around one’s ankles. We watch each character’s downfall and subsequent rescue through the mutual recognition of each other’s potential – such a story can’t help but leave the viewer with an indomitable sense of hope and liberation. 

Perhaps such a story is a dare to create something in spite of the inherent disorder and precariousness of life; even when there's more ‘string’ than ‘pearls’, Dan still searches for the pearls. It's also about having fun; Gretta and Dan are not only alright, they’re choosing to live – and they’ll make music on rooftops, at train stations and in laneways if they have to.

While starting over is a heavy and daunting task for both characters, wisdom and self-belief is the consolation prize for their hard experiences. The next chapter – the next song – is about what you make. But you have to start somewhere – again and again.

Megan GrahamMegan Graham won the 2013 Margaret Dooley Award for Young Writers.

Topic tags: Megan Graham, film revew, VBegin Again, John Carney, Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo



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Existing comments

'They use the creation of music as a mirror to reflect back a version of themselves – and NYC – that they can love. The process and the product are both lovely to behold.' I don't know that I have read a more lovely description of the cognition, solace and joy that music engenders. Thank you for a stimulating review; it sounds like a great cast has fulfilled a great premise.

Barry G | 07 August 2014  

Thank you very much for taking the time to write this reveiw, Megan. I'm really looking forward to seeing the movie. It sounds life-giving and renewing.

robert | 07 August 2014  

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