Joie de vivre – you don’t get a lot of it in movies these days, do you?
Writer/director John Carney, formerly the bass player with Irish band The Frames, has followed up his distinctive Once (2006) with another celebratory musical.
Gretta (Keira Knightley) has moved from London to New York as the partner of Steve (James Corden), with whom she has been collaborating as a singer/songwriter. His solo career takes off and their relationship falters.
Downcast and discouraged, Gretta decides to return to England.
Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a once-was record industry legend who has been sacked by the company he helped establish. They meet in a bar and a star is born. Actually, it’s not quite as simple like that, for Carney, an insider, is more concerned with observing the clash that occurs when the integrity of the artist is confronted by the pragmatism of business.
There are plenty of digs at the music industry (Mos Def is a treat as the bean-counting CEO), but they are without vitriol, the understanding being that god and mammon have always made their compliant compromises.
Knightley doesn’t so much adopt a character as bend it to her will, making the character herself. She has mastered the art and is perfectly suited to a role such as this.
Ruffalo, a warm and cuddly actor, is equally comfortable as the dishevelled loser who, because he has never lost the passion for what he does, will pull himself up by his bootlaces.
None of which counts if there aren’t any tunes that get inside your head, and in this there are plenty, both originals and standards – none better than Stevie Wonder’s For Once In My Life (the scene with Ruffalo and Knightley dancing to it is fab).
It’s not unlike Music and Lyrics, but for one major difference. Here the emphasis is not on the romance – though the ‘will they or won’t they?’ tease is a steady undercurrent.
Instead, it’s about the joy of making music.
Ebullient, sexy and smart.
~ John Campbell