Saturday, 12 July 2014

Review: Begin Again

World of Blackout Film Review

Begin Again Poster

Begin Again
Cert: 15 / 104 mins / Dir. John Carney
WoB Rating: 4/7

"What's that?", Greta asks, pointing to a dual-cable with two jack sockets and one plug hanging from record-producer Dan's rearview mirror. "It's a headphone splitter", he replies. How down-with-the-kids is this modern piece about the music industry, knowing that no-one uses 'head phones' any more, except for everyone in this film all of the time, and also pretty much everyone in the real world who's watching the film? Headphones, grandad? With wires? This is the reality we're in, here.

I must confess that as someone who has spent (admittedly limited) time in a recording studio, I found the trailer for John Carney's Begin Again fairly objectionable. The thought of recording acoustic instruments in such close proximity to one another indicated that the film would have as accurate a relationship with the music industry as Button Moon does with space travel. Then again, the central male protagonist is a washed-up, has-been, producer who makes a web-viral star out of a twee songwriter with the most ineffectual voice imaginable; so in that respect it does have some documentary-like credentials, I suppose.

The film opens with an interesting narrative-structure, where we keep coming back to Greta's solo performance in the trailer, which underscores the title of the film perfectly, a little like a musical Groundhog Day. Then, as soon as the second act kicks in, we're back into linear-mode, where things progress at an altogether more predictable pace. In and of itself, the film's story-premise isn't a bad one, but it's let down by the horrible miscasting of Keira Knightley as Greta, where the role calls for someone with more dramatic weight to bring. It would certainly have helped if the film-makers had chosen a singer who could act, rather than an actress who can sing (albeit uninspiringly).

The annoying thing is that I completely bought Mark Ruffalo as Dan, the confused mess of a middle-aged man in a world that's left him behind, desperately wanting to connect with anything in a genuine way again. It's just everyone else in the movie I had a hard time believing in. Given that the central thread of the film is about platonic friendship rather than romantic, and they've chosen to illustrate this with a bunch of the most vacuous hipsters you'll see on-screen this year, you sort of end up wondering what the point really is?

Every bit as bland and superficial as the side of the music industry it purports to fictionalise, Begin Again is an hour and a three quarters of self-congratulatory back-slapping (to the bitter end of the tacked on coda which plays behind the credits), for an 'album' which would, in reality, sound like it had been recorded in a toilet.

And just when you thought that James Corden getting people to dance at a party was the most cringeworthy thing you'd ever seen, Hailee Steinfeld plays a guitar solo. Which Keira Knightley has the audacity to increase the volume of.

Soul music for people with no soul.

Is the trailer representative of the film?
It's not as godawful as the trailer looks, but it's not a massive improvement on it.

Did I laugh, cry, gasp and sigh when I was supposed to?

Does it achieve what it sets out to do?
For me? Nope.

Pay at the cinema, Rent on DVD or just wait for it to be on the telly?

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Will I watch it again?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream?
There isn't.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

And my question for YOU is…
How come no-one mics up Greta's acoustic guitar for a single one of the outdoor recording sessions? Unless you beat the living shit out of the thing (which she doesn't), you won't hear a damned thing.
Has no-one on set ever played an acoustic outside before, let alone in a noisy area and less than ten feet away from a fucking drum kit?

And no, it's not an electro-acoustic.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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