**** out of **** (Top Rating)
A great movie penetrates you down to your very soul. Begin Again does just that, for it is an absolute joyous experience. It's a romantic comedy-drama with lots of music, so in essence, it's a musical, like writer/director John Carney's 2007 feature Once. This summer's earlier release, Chef, is about the love of food and the artistry of cooking. Begin Again is about the love and power of music.
Mark Ruffalo plays Dan, a once successful music executive who is now a down-on-his-luck alcoholic. After a spectacularly bad day, he sees songwriter Gretta (Keira Knightley) performing a song in a club. Gretta is nursing a broken romance with up-and-coming rock star Dave Cole (Adam Levine).
So, it is natural that Dan and Gretta - two lost souls - gravitate toward each other. Dan comes up with the idea to help Gretta record an album of her singing her own songs. The gimmick is that they will record each song live in different areas in New York City.
There is much to love in Begin Again. The always engaging Ruffalo is able to make his character come off as very funny and very sad at the same time. The gorgeous Knightley has a great singing voice and delivers a spirited performance. Levine, frontman for the band Maroon 5, is very good here, delivering a fine dramatic performance as well as spoofing his own rock star persona.
Director Carney fills the movie with inventive moments, like when a drunken Dan begins to imagine Gretta's acoustic performance in the club as a bigger arrangement. We actually see instruments, as if they are being played by an invisible band, coming in one at a time to create a bigger, powerful sound to complement her vocals. Carney began in music - he was bassist and vocalist with the Irish band The Frames - and when you have characters in a movie name drop Randy Newman and Carole King, you know the filmmaker behind it is a serious connoisseur.
For my money, this fresh, energetic movie about love and music is far more entertaining than a two-hour plus toy commercial for transforming alien robots. Begin Again is the film of the summer...and perhaps the year.