It's great that films like 'Begin Again' see the light of day. A film about making, feeling and enjoying the music. A movie about creating songs (songs where lyrics are meaningful and real instruments are played, where asses, stupidity, amount of provocative tweets &/or dresses doesn't matter at all) with enough charms and vividness to keep you smiling after the credits roll on.
Having said that, 'Begin Again' cannot compete with the sense of freshness, rawness and romanticism of the director's previous and celebrated work, 'Once', and some of the tricks that build the development of the film are so hard to believe it all relies on the spectator's shoulders. If you "buy" the story, you'll certainly enjoy 'Begin Again'. If not, it might annoy you from time to time. I encourage you to not get obsessed with verisimilitude and realism. Lower your guard in that sense.
Writer-director John Carney has created a comedy with hints of drama and heartbreaks where possibility and opportunity have the form of a three minute pop song. It's basically a contemporary, flesh and bones tale. Gretta (played with grace by Keira Knightley) and her boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine from the obnoxious Maroon 5, and yes folks, sadly enough, he sings on the movie) are not only a perfect couple but also a major creative force, landing in New York while stardom is knocking on their doors... aka a major label deal. But fame brings also the more common (along with drugs and booze) trouble and Gretta is left on her own... with her tunes. And that's when Dan (as usual, Mark Ruffalo on a solid performance), a fallen angel of a record-label executive appears, also abandoned, in terms of family & in terms of music industry. It jumps from scene to scene in brush strokes, making clear that Carney just needs an excuse, an emotional setting where he can locate his unusual music recording story. The movie really begins when Dan imagines how he could produce the aching, acoustic song a devastated Gretta is performing on an East Village venue. It's also the first of several uplifting moments on the film.
It's kind of a last chance for both. For Gretta is either trying to follow this desperate man into his attempt to record her songs or leaving the States (and maybe music?). For Dan, it's either completely sink or swim. As a feel-good movie, 'Begin Again' takes the obvious directions except in one area where Carney surprises the spectator not going for what it would have been the blandest, romantic choice. Instead, he focus just in music and New York City, the other starring of 'Begin Again' (with all my respect to my dear Catherine Keener and some other secondary roles). The idea of a "live and alive" album Gretta & Dan are aiming to record is refreshing (impossible too) and offers joyful renditions of songs played behind a summery, shiny, exuberant city. It's hard to resist, so haunting you'll forget the lame scenes/debates on music industry or Mr. Levine singing. It's the power of music in a mind-blowing environment.