Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 2013. Exclusive Media Group, Sycamore Pictures, Apatow Productions, Likely Story. Screenplay by John Carney. Cinematography by Yaron Orbach. Produced by Judd Apatow, Tobin Armbrust, Anthony Bregman. Music by Gregg Alexander. Production Design by Chad Keith. Costume Design by Arjun Bhasin. Film Editing by Andrew Marcus. Academy Awards 2014. Toronto International Film Festival 2013.
Lonely souls meet over music once again in John Carney’s New York-set counterpart to his sleeper indie hit Once. Keira Knightley has just arrived with songwriting and life partner Adam Levine to pursue a recording career that skyrockets so fast that he’s off with another woman before she even realizes what hit her. Mark Ruffalo is a record company executive who is on a fast spiral downward, drinking too much, ignoring his daughter and bringing nothing worthwhile to the office from which he then gets fired. Drinking his sorrows away in a dingy bar, he hears Knightley play a song on stage and, in one of the film’s most inspired sequences, casts a full band around her in his mind that makes him realize that she is his next big find and, possibly, his road to redemption. She isn’t interested in fame, but she does love writing songs, so she agrees to give it a shot with this possible maniac who, when he can’t get a studio to record a demo in, suggests the craziest thing she’s ever heard: perform and record her songs all over the city, in public, with a band of misfits and her friend from the old country (James Corden) holding the microphone. Seeing as how she has nothing to lose and even less to strive for, Knightley agrees and the project is, to the audience’s great pleasure, pulled off as the two become friends and heal their wounds. Carney’s plot avoids the most painful cliches of this kind of story but does allow himself more than a few indulgences, the movie takes place in a mythical New York whose pavement has no cracks for even the saddest person involved (and whose cops only manage to drive them away from unlicensed public performance one time?) Silly as it risks being, though, this one is a sweet pleasure to sit through thanks to some lovely songs and a marvelous performance by the leading lady; while Ruffalo risks overdoing it with his bent stoop and perpetually messy hair, throwing CDs out of his car like his acting coach is grading him in the passenger seat, Knightley has a winsome manner and easy smile that spreads charm all over this enchanting little number. Catherine Keener registers quite effectively in her few moments as Ruffalo’s ex-wife, and Hailee Steinfeld makes great work of hers as his estranged daughter with the killer guitar moves.