Much of Begin Again looks familiar. And it should. The new musical is the creation of writer-director John Carney, previously responsible for 2006’s similar, curiously overpraised Once.
Like its predecessor, Begin Again is not a musical comedy because the laughs are few. Unlike the semi-romantic Once, Carney’s new creation is more anti-romance that romantic. It’s just a pop musical draped lightly around an even lighter narrative.
Once centered on Dublin street performers. Begin Again takes place in Manhattan and concerns itself with housebroken performers who, at some point, also decide to take it outside. Again, one person is native and one an outsider.
With his two main characters, Carney supplies some thinly drawn characterizations to flesh out the spots in between his songs.
An over-energetic, but fun to watch, Mark Ruffalo plays Dan, a dysfunctional music executive strung so high, it’s hard to believe he can work. The night he is fired, he meets Gretta (Keira Knightley) when she sings in a club, a meeting Carney likes so much he shows it three times.
From there, it’s all about the music, man. Dan is determined to show his ex-boss (Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def) that he can still spot talent. So Dan aspires to produce an album by Greta, even if he has to call in favors, use nonprofessional musicians, and record the sessions guerrilla-style on New York streets.
During all this, Greta frets about her philandering ex-boyfriend, Dave (Adam Levine), while Dan tries to become more of a father to his precocious teen daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) and stay friends with his ex-wife, Miriam (Catherine Keener).
In the one memorable sequence, Greta and Dan make a Woody Allen-esque journey through Manhattan while listening to classics on their headsets. Except for these out-of-place nuggets, one forgettable song follows another.
But everything ends happily and predictably enough, sending the audience home smiling even if not much has gone on before.
BOO ALLEN is an award-winning film critic who has worked for the Denton Record-Chronicle for more than 20 years. He lives in Dallas.
Rated R, 104 minutes.
Now playing at the Angelika Plano.