Words by Matt Poe

“Begin Again” (2014)

Netflix Star Rating: ★★★★½☆
Poe’s Star Rating: ★★★★★ (get lost in the music)

A has-been music executive struggles to keep his professional and personal life intact. Meanwhile, a young musician struggles to navigate the New York City music scene. Call it fate but the two may be perfect for each other.

Category: Drama, Music, Independent

Rated R for language

Starring Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, James Corden and Adam Levine

Written and directed by John Carney

Welcome back to another edition of Poe’s Picks. If you’re looking for the hottest, most tantalizing Netflix blog on the market, well, you’ve come to the right place. Folks, I’ve been doing this blog for almost a year now and I want to thank all of you who read it, whoever or wherever you may be. It’s truly been a great joy to me.

The main reason I do this blog is to help the audience spend less time searching and more time watching in the realm of streaming. But this blog also started for a reason that had slipped my mind until recently.

The star rating on Netflix has always bothered me. The ratings don’t come from esteemed critics (cough, cough) or others who have a vast knowledge of film (louder, more aggressive cough) but from everyday viewers. Most the of the ratings I had come across were very off; good movies with poor ratings, terrible, never should see the light of day movies that had favorable ratings.

Photo Courtesy of IMDB.

As I sat on my couch struggling to find a movie, I came across “Begin Again,” a movie with four-and-a-half stars. Surely, I thought, this was just another overrated movie on Netflix. The premise sounded intriguing so I figured, hell, why not give it a go. Friends, I couldn’t have been more wrong. (First time for everything, I know.) This movie was fantastic.

Dan Mulligan (Ruffalo) is a washed-up music executive who hit it big years ago when he founded his own record label. The glory days are behind Dan as he hasn’t signed a client in years and his partner in crime (Mos Def) has given up on him. Things aren’t exactly going well at home either: he’s since separated from his wife (Catherine Keener) and fails to make any connection with his daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). Suffice to say, his life is in the crapper.

A chance encounter one drunken eve leads Dan to discover Gretta (Knightley), a young musician new to the Big Apple. After seeing her play one night in a small dive bar, he feels the lightbulb go off and attempts to sign her on the spot. But it’s not that simple. Gretta suffers from her own baggage as her boyfriend (Levine) is on the cusp of becoming a rock star in his own right. Eventually, Dan and Gretta decide to give it a shot and produce an album together, a chance for both to start something new and meaningful.

I digress here, but I will say I was floored by this movie. The film is not a musical by any means but the music is the driving force behind this story. And damn, it is some great music. Gregg Alexander is credited with writing the music and everyone who sings or plays an instrument is just as great.

The cast is terrific as well. We all know Levine (swoon) can sing and play guitar, but he brings some considerable acting chops to his role as the jerk-boyfriend. Corden, who you may know from his late night talk show, also surprised me with his role as Knightley’s best friend and brought some hearty laughs to the movie. Steinfeld, who burst onto the scene in 2010’s “True Grit” is a star in the making; she’s the next Jennifer Lawrence, as far as beauty, brains and acting ability.

As I often save the best for last, this show belongs to Knightley and Ruffalo. It’s nice to see Knightley away from the period pieces we’re so used to seeing her in. Her Gretta is caught between her former life and the possibility of taking the plunge into something unknown and she plays the role convincingly. Ruffalo, to me, is one of the most underrated actors of the last 20 years. He’s finally gotten the credit and recognition he deserves for films such as “Foxcatcher” and he was incredible in last year’s “Spotlight.” Make an effort to find more of his work because he truly is underrated.

I loved the pace of this movie and you’ll get the feeling of being swept along for the ride. That’s what music does to us, no matter what type you’re into; it allows us to get lost in something we can’t compartmentalize. “Begin Again” could have easily been slapped up as some cheap rom-com where Ruffalo and Knightley find each other, crawl in bed together and all ends well. Thankfully, it’s not that kind of movie.

Sure, a little part of me as a moviegoer wants that, but it’s lazy. Here, we have characters who have problems that feel real and the way they deal with them is never cut and dry. It’s a little idealistic and their problems aren’t exactly life or death, but there’s nothing wrong with that. “Begin Again” is the perfect title for this movie. The characters are in a place where they must decide to try it again or begin elsewhere with new people. That theme is something we all battle in life, whether it be career, a relationship or moving to a new place.

I think Ruffalo’s character embodies that best here; it’s so easy to become paralyzed as you stand on the edge of beginning something new or different. If you see me, make fun of me for this dumb cliché, but the only way to get over the fear is to jump and be honest enough with yourself to do it.

Damn that was super cheesy, I know. I need a shower. Anyway, this movie certainly isn’t cheesy. Trust me.

Until next time.

In Good Films We Trust,

Matt “Roger Ebert wishes he was half the film critic I am” Poe