When someone asks me what my favourite film is, I give them a list of five, one of which is John Carney’s mini-masterpiece, Once.
An ode to music, Dublin, and the beauty of the everyday, Once will sit proudly on that list for the rest of my life.
So what of Carney’s follow-up, Begin Again, which arrives eight years after his last feature?
Starring Keira Knightley as Greta – an English songwriter in New York – and Mark Ruffalo as Dan – a formerly-succesful A&R man whose bedraggled appearance and penchant for late-night drinking hint at a serious downturn in luck – Begin Again does not tread far from the template of its predecessor.
Indeed the story of lost girl and broken boy is in essence Once Version 2.0, with Knightley stepping into Glen Hansard’s shoes as the struggling and heartbroken musician and Ruffalo channelling Marketa Irglova’s unlikely muse.
But for all its similarities with Carney’s previous film, Begin Again is no worse for that. In fact, it is a heart-warming and inspirational ode to the power of both music and second chances.
Carney does not write love stories so much as live stories. His characters rediscover themselves in the belief and motivation of others, two broken souls thrown together to form not a whole but a platform from which to, well, begin again.
The film’s soundtrack does not have a standout moment such as Once’s Falling Slowly or When Your Mind’s Made Up, but the songs are still good enough to ensure you believe Greta can become what Dan sees in a wonderful and unexpected early sequence.
After learning, through smartly edited flashbacks, just how these two characters found their way to each other, you are drawn into a movie that wears its heart very much on its sleeve.
Carney may have a template, but it works perfectly, creating a film that avoids the perils of cliché and sends the audience away with that unavoidable smile that comes from only the very best cinematic experiences.