The key to a successful romantic comedy is to establish characters who are believable. For the viewer to feel a direct connection to the story, they must care about those who are being affected.
This is something that Begin Again excels in. The film wastes no times establishing the connection between our two main characters, a down-in-the-dumps, alcoholic music producer, Dan (Mark Ruffalo), and an English singer-songwriter, Gretta (Keira Knightley), who is new to New York City. The two meet at bar, where Dan hears Gretta sing at an open mic night, and becomes immediately enamored, wanting to produce her album.
But then the movie takes a step back, taking about 30 minutes to show us the sequence of events that brought both characters to that particular bar on that particular day. Both are having extremely bad days, to say the least — Dan with his career, and Gretta with her boyfriend, Dave (played by Maroon 5’s Adam Levine), also a singer on the cusp of stardom.
Those 30 minutes of character development are integral in getting the viewer to care about the movie.
My biggest peeve with romantic comedies is when the characters are not realistic; when they all have excellent jobs and excellent lives and then a love story is forced down our throats. If I don’t particularly care for the characters, then I’m certainly not going to care about their relationship struggles.
But Begin Again isn’t a traditional rom-com in the sense that there is a love story between our male and female leads. Instead, their relationship is platonic. But they both do have strained relationships, Gretta with Dave, and Dan with his ex-wife, Miriam (Catherine Keener) and teenage daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld).
Dan and Gretta ultimately decide to work together, recording an album throughout various parts of Manhattan. They do it independently, without the help of a major studio.
In other words, it’s an indie film, through and through.
But that’s not to say Begin Again doesn’t give in to conventional cliches at times. I feel some things were unnecessarily thrown into the script for convenience sake, and to tie things up nicely for the casual viewer.
The movie heavily romanticizes New York City, and music, so those who enjoy either of those things (or both) will like the movie much more for that.
Ruffalo has been a skilled and heavily underrated actor for a long time, and it’s no exception here in his portrayal of a sleazy but good-hearted producer, and while Knightley is hit or miss at times, she’s loose and natural here, resulting in a convincing performance. And she sings nicely. Adam Levine plays a douchebag version of his real-life self, which, I feel like is the way a lot of people imagine him like anyway.
In the end, you have a film that avoids typical romantic comedy clichés just enough to hold its own in the genre, while remaining focused on its two main elements: New York City and music. If that’s what you’re expecting when you watch Begin Again, then you definitely will not be let down.