By Jess Fenton
9th June 2014

Formerly titled ‘Can a Song Save Your Life?’, and now hitting cinemas under its new moniker ‘Begin Again’, even looking at the trailer you can’t help but feel this is a ‘Once’ knock-off - until you find out that it’s actually written and directed by John Carney, the guy who wrote and directed ‘Once’. Awkward.

‘Begin Again’ takes place over a New York summer, using the city as the soundtrack as lonely, lost songwriter Greta (Kiera Knightly) meets a down-on-his-luck ex-record executive Dan (Mark Ruffalo), and all it takes is one song at an open mic night in the East Village to bring the pair together in a collaboration that will change both of their lives.


Where ‘Once’ was filled with raw authenticity and some of the most ridiculously powerful and emotive music ever recorded, ‘Begin Again’ has Hollywood power-players delivering a script filled with cute, catchy songs with a quirky feel and Kiera Knightly’s wistful vocal stylings. Kind of like a wedding cake - it looks amazing, but inside it’s stale and gluggy. The city, the music and those pretty pretty faces make for a very enticing and entrancing film, but once all that stops the cracks start to emerge - and boy, are they big ones.

‘Once’ was a rare gem of serendipitous fortune. ‘Begin Again’ is manufactured lightning attempting to strike the same place twice. ‘Begin Again’ is not without its charm, for which it has in abundance thanks to its likeable cast including James Corden, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld and CeeLo Green. It's also helped along by its non-offensive soundtrack - it’s just a sad but unavoidable misfortune that it has to be compared to its predecessor ‘Once’.

‘Begin Again’ is manufactured lightning attempting to strike the same place twice.

In ‘Once’, Carney served the story and not the audience by giving us the tragic yet loving story along with its vitally important ending - in ‘Begin Again’, he’s tried to duplicate that reaction, and, in the process, has lost the story’s purpose, with the film concluding and never quite sure what it wants to say or be.

The cast are great and so are the songs - you can easily get lost in them for 104 minutes - but once the lights come up, it’s back to reality, leaving you scratching your head.

Looking for more Sydney Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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