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He Said, She Said Review Site

The Awakening

What She said:


As we learn in the 2014 musical comedy-drama, Begin Again, working in the music industry is not all that it’s cracked up to be.  From every end of the spectrum—musician to executive—it can often be unfulfilling and grief inducing.  While sometimes difficult to relate to, the film shows us that there is a solution to this issue, one that can be applied to so many aspects to our own lives, and that is a return to the basics.  Several elements of this film are a stretch, bordering on fantasy, but it’s also light and pretty fun.  With catchy music and endearing performances, Begin Again is a decent watch.

Begin Again

The movie introduces us to Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a once prominent music executive who now finds his career failing.  Likewise, his family has fallen apart, with Dan estranged from his wife and his daughter resenting him.  He lives in a dodgy apartment and cruises around in a car that is a dimming reflection of his former success.  You see, Dan had started an independent music label with a good friend, Saul (Mos Def), and rose to the top when he signed talents such as rapper Troublegum (CeeLo Green).  He’s always been about finding artists who truly understand the range and capabilities of music.  However, as his record label has expanded, there’s been pressure to focus only on the popular stuff.  This is where Dan and Saul butt heads, and eventually, Dan is actually pushed out of the business entirely.

Dan is floundering, drinks away his troubles, and has little direction for the future.  And that is when he crosses paths with the muse that will change everything for him, Gretta James (Keira Knightley).  She is the songwriting former girlfriend of Dave Kohl (Adam Levine), who recently jettisoned to the top of the charts.  Gretta is left heartbroken when Dave gets too big for his britches, cheats on her, and dumps her.  She had followed him to America to help him in his burgeoning career; however, she now finds herself alone in New York City.  Fortunately, a friend has taken her in as she starts to try to figure out what she will do next. 

Dan hears Gretta perform one of her songs, and while she thinks it went horribly bad, he is absolutely mesmerized.  He knows that she has the talent and vision to completely change the face of music.  He goes about trying to court her for a record deal, even though at this point he really has no finances to support the endeavor.  Gretta eventually caves, knowing that this is her opportunity to steer the ship and make the music the way she wants to.  Dan and Gretta set out together to create an album that is groundbreaking, hiring musicians off the street who agree to perform free of charge and recording live at various sites throughout the city.  It’s a grand undertaking, but one with huge payoffs.  In the process, Dan and Gretta help each other find new meaning in their lives through the music they create.  They both end up growing as people.

There are some ups and downs of this film.  I’ll start with the ups—I think it has a really strong cast.  Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley make an unlikely, yet effective pairing.  Catherine Keener plays Dan’s estranged wife, and while she’s pretty much filling her customary hippie-dippy role, she’s actually pretty decent.  Likewise, I was pleasantly surprised by both Adam Levine and CeeLo Green.  I don’t usually like when musicians shift over into acting, as they’re typically quite bad, but the whole cast comes together here in a decent way.

Begin Again

I also liked the music in this movie.  This is categorized as a musical, which I fortunately did NOT mention to The He in advance of our viewing.  Otherwise, he probably would not have watched it.  But the music is unobtrusive and inoffensive.  It’s somewhat catchy, but not in a That Thing You Do stuck-in-your-head-for-days-later kind of way.  The songs are just kind of nice, and really do add to the film.

Now for the downsides.  As someone not currently involved in the music scene and presently pretty far removed from my days as a musician, I found some of the content hard to relate to.  The movie really is about music as an art form, and I’m probably a little too dull of a person to really latch on to that.  I could see that being an issue for the mainstream movie going masses.

Also, there are elements to this story that are just a little too fantastical.  We kind of know that everything is going to turn out just peachy because, even though we’re told these characters are struggling, we never really see it.  In particular, Gretta is out of work, and yet she seems to be getting by with no problem whatsoever.  Even her close friend, street musician, seems to be doing pretty well by New York City standards.  It’s just a little bit too over-the-top at its foundation to be believed.  That is why I almost say it’s a fantasy—not meant to be taken as fact.

Despite its flaws, I did still find myself liking this film.  It was pleasant and not too difficult to watch.  It certainly wasn’t groundbreaking or life changing in any way for me, but it was decent enough to warrant the rental.

Thumbs mostly up.   

Begin Again

What He said:

Begin Again

Something big is about to happen in the lives of the characters of Begin Again. It’s all connected too.
Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo) is a record label executive at, but seemingly successful record label. His partner (played by Mos Def) just “fired” him. He is also estranged from his wife, Miriam (Catherine Keener), and sees his daughter about once a month.

Gretta (Keira Knightley) and Dave (Adam Levine) have just moved to NY, because Dave is a musician who has just recently started to gain notoriety and is about to sign with a big record label. He’s on the verge of making the leap from up-and-coming artist to mega-star. Unfortunately for Gretta, when he does achieve said mega-star status, he ditches his longtime girlfriend.

This leads to a sequence of events that will connect Gretta and Dan with one another. You see, Gretta is a songwriter. She sings a little bit too. She worked a lot with David, but the record label was only interested in him. When the two of them break up, Gretta ends up crashing on her friend Steve’s (James Corden). Steve is also an aspiring musician. One night, while performing at a gig, he calls her up on stage to play one of her songs; much to her dismay. The crowd does not react very much to her. She doesn’t get booed or anything, but they start talking amongst themselves, head to the bar or the bathroom, etc. Dan, who is busy drinking away his sorrows at the very same bar, likes Gretta’s tune. He approaches her and offers to be her manager. Gretta initially scoffs at the idea, saying she’s more into writing than performing, but eventually agrees to give it a shot.

The two of them embark on the journey of creating a demo, so that Dan can make a pitch to his former partner Saul (Mos Def). They have no money, so they can’t pay anybody involved, but you bet your ass there’s lots of fun to be had and they find themselves along the way. Gretta figures out whether she really needs Dave in her life or not (he tries to reconnect with her). Through Gretta, Dan reconnects with his daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld).  Violet gets to know the father she never had (or hasn’t in quite some time).

Begin Again

Ok, so here’s the thing. I’m not what you’d call a music fanatic. I’m not into the lifestyle, all the behind-the-scenes stuff, and I hate concerts. I don’t care what inspires them, how their albums are made, yada, yada, yada. I find them to be a little melodramatic to be honest. So, I’m not really the target audience for the movie. I do like music very much though. I listen to it every day. I’m just not into the lifestyle of a musician.

This was an ok movie. I didn’t love it and I certainly didn’t hate it. I thought the acting was good. Everyone was decent. The only part of it I didn’t like was whenever Mark Ruffalo tried to act like a music exec. I thought he came off like a dorky dad trying to be cool. The rest of his performance was fine though. The rest of the cast I had no problem with. Hailee Steinfeld and Kiera Knightley were just fine. So was Catherine Keener. I thought Adam Levine was decent too (he played the stereotypical musician pretty well).

The story was ok. It was funny in parts, dramatic in others. It was a nice balance. I appreciated that it did not go the traditional or cliché route with some aspects of the story too, but overall it didn’t do a whole lot for me for the most part. I don’t have a lot of bad things to say about the story, it was just kind of there.   

Prognosis: Thumbs half up.

This movie review was given the He said, She said seal of approval on November 14, 2014.