Writer-director John Carney struck indie gold with 2006's Once, a gentle whisper of a film that touched many a hipster with its tale of a pair of struggling musicians. Figuring that Once is not enough, Carney now offers Begin Again, another tale centering around two people about to either sink or swim in the currents of the music biz.
Mark Ruffalo plays Dan, an alcoholic record-label maven estranged from his wife (Catherine Keener), his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and his business partner (Yasiin Bey, aka the artist formerly known as Mos Def). Keira Knightley is Greta, a songwriter who helps her boyfriend Dave (Maroon 5's Adam Levine) reach the big time, only to break it off once she learns he had an affair. Greta is ready to head back to England, but first, her friend Steve (James Corden) drags her to a local club, where he then insists she perform one of her songs. Dan is in the audience, and he likes what he hears ... so much so that he immediately offers a suspicious Greta the opportunity to make an album with him. After a bit of hemming and hawing, she figures why not, and soon they're hopping all over New York City recruiting friends and recording songs.
With its cornball narrative and unlikely developments, Begin Again is about as grounded in reality as How to Train Your Dragon 2. Yet the picture is so warmhearted and generous of spirit that it's easy to overlook its contrivances. The porcelain Knightley and the shaggy Ruffalo work well off each other, and I especially liked the way that Carney constructs their relationship: It's clear that they harbor some mutual attraction but just as obvious that they're not really compatible-couple material.
Throw in some likable songs, an amusing turn by CeeLo Green as (what else?) a successful musician, and the chance to see True Grit Oscar nominee Steinfeld continue to mature as an actress, and Begin Again will begin to look like a sound option for a late-night, date-night excursion.