The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Music powers rebirth in 'Begin Again' from the Irish director of the Oscar-winning 'Once'

  • Print

NEW YORK, N.Y. - When the bassist turned filmmaker John Carney was young, a borrowed Walkman played while cycling to school was an epiphany.

"The idea of personalized music was outrageous to me," said the Irish writer-director in a recent interview. "My life changed. I could now make this journey in an imaginative state. You could suddenly be listening to a Malcolm McLaren song or Grand Master Flash."

Carney's latest film, "Begin Again," which opens Friday, is a love letter to the transformative power of music — the way it can chart our lives and provide solace for trying times. It's an earnest reminder of the simple majesty of music, even in the disposable age of iTunes. The original title was "Can a Song Save Your Life?" and there's no doubt as to the film's answer.

It's a follow-up of sorts to Carney's 2006 Oscar-winning indie sensation "Once," which chronicles a musical romance between a Dublin busker and a recent Ireland immigrant, who join for an unlikely, uplifting recording session. "Begin Again" moves to New York, but it, too, exudes a heart-on-the-sleeve sincerity about collaborative music-making and an abiding affection for street-level authenticity.

Mark Ruffalo stars as a divorced, middle-aged record executive struggling in the modern, recalibrated music industry. He's grown cynical, furiously tossing CDs out of his car window, desperate for something with feeling. He drunkenly stumbles across it at a Lower East Side club, where an unknown British singer (Keira Knightley) bewilders him. He pursues her and cobbles together a band to back her on an outdoor album recorded around New York.

Knightley's character is also lost, having come to the U.S. with her musician boyfriend (Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine), only to see his sudden onset of pop stardom leave her behind.

The mix of disciplines — music and movies — is seen throughout "Begin Again." CeeLo Green and Yasiin Bey (also known as Mos Def) play supporting roles. Knightley sings despite little previous experience.

"For me, the two things are almost married," says Carney of cinema and music.

Carney, 42, was a member of the Irish band the Frames before turning to directing their music videos. He also wrote some of the songs in "Begin Again," which came out of imagining what happened to A&R guys he saw trolling Dublin in early 90s, looking for "the next U2."

"He's sincere," says Ruffalo of Carney. "He's earnest about his art and his filmmaking."

Ruffalo identified with what he calls "the inner unrest" reflected in "Begin Again," a movie he said that's about people "getting back to themselves."

Shot in only 24 days, "Begin Again" was made with the same lo-fi esthetic of its music, which meant working quickly, improvising dialogue and finding ad hoc locations.

"I was completely out of my comfort zone," says Knightley. "I'd never really been on films where the space isn't safe. This film was very much like if there was a street corner where it looked like we might get away with shooting for a little while, we'd jump out of the van and try to do it there."

Levine was also trying something different — acting in a movie for the first time. As someone who experienced firsthand what it's like to go from an unknown to enormously famous nearly overnight, he was uniquely qualified to play a character who did the same thing.

"Having that happen to you is a very unique and highly unnatural situation to be put in," Levine says. "The things that kind of went haywire as a result ... it's not going to be a smooth transition."

"That's what connected me to this (character)," Levine says. "I saw so much of myself in him 10 years ago."

Despite the influence of music on Carney's life, he hasn't personally listened to it for some time, following the death of a family member.

"Music is too much for me to listen to because it's like an intravenous expression of emotion," he says. "I can't go there."


Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at:

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


How Winnipeg's slow growth saved the Exchange District

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A monarch butterfly looks for nectar in Mexican sunflowers at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Monday afternoon-Monarch butterflys start their annual migration usually in late August with the first sign of frost- Standup photo– August 22, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Gardening Column- Assiniboine Park English Garden. July 19, 2002.

View More Gallery Photos


Do you support Canada's involvement in the fight against Islamic State?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google