Amateur singer-songwriter Gretta (Keira Knightley) gets stranded in New York when her rock-star boyfriend (Adam Levine) takes off on tour with his mistress. But she catches a break when drunken, desperate former record mogul Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo) hears her sing, and stakes everything on making an album with her, recorded live on location around the city.
Writer-director John Carney knows a little something about turning the everyday lives of musicians into a different kind of movie musical, having delivered a left-field hit with his 2007 film Once. With Begin Again, Carney is working with the biggest-name cast he’s employed so far, including Catherine Keener as Dan’s ex-wife, Hailee Steinfeld as their daughter, and James Corden as Gretta’s best friend.
Begin Again got off to a fast start at the Toronto film festival last fall, when it was still titled Can A Song Save Your Life? There, it landed the biggest distribution deal of the festival, with The Weinstein Company. Critics were divided on the film, with some deriding its hackneyed clichés about the cynicism of the music business and the wonderland that is New York City. It demands viewers submit to its earnest romanticism, but those who can take that ride should be charmed by the lead performances, and by the whole idea of pop music as the great unifier. (Noel Murray and Tasha Robinson, who saw it at different festivals, were both positive on it, while acknowledging the divide between its authentic emotion and overly pushy message.)
As with Once, the success of Begin Again will be tied closely to how much people believe in the songs. It helps that the catchy soundtrack was written by Gregg Alexander, an elusive former wunderkind best known for fronting the band New Radicals, then quitting right when he was enjoying a massive hit with the song “You Get What You Give.”
ANTICIPATION RATING: 7.2
Word of mouth from staffers who have already seen it has helped boost enthusiasm. So has Carney’s presence. We’re ready to open up our hearts and learn to love again.
And So It Goes...
A selfish, self-absorbed real-estate agent played by Michael Douglas is thrown for a loop when his estranged son saddles him with a granddaughter he’s never met. Will this narcissistic curmudgeon learn the value of family and giving, possibly with the help of a daffy neighbor played by Diane Keaton? If a century-plus of cinema and the wisdom of formula are any indication, yes, yes he will.
With a screenplay by As Good As It Gets scribe Mark Andrus, this looks exactly like the kind of gratingly quirky, “adult” fare that gets nominated for lots of awards and cleans up with the AARP crowd. Director Rob Reiner, meanwhile, has experienced flop after flop after flop as of late, with the notable exception of The Bucket List, which likewise appealed to the old-and-sexy set.
There doesn’t seem to be much early word on this one, though it did get some negative press when producer Rob Reiner replaced original director P.J. Hogan. That happened before on 2005’s Rumor Has It, and heaven knows that film didn’t turn out too well.
Senior citizens have quietly made some sleepy films, like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Bucket List, into surprise blockbusters. Will they do the same for And So It Goes, or will Reiner’s epic losing streak continue?
ANTICIPATION RATING: 4.1
Curmudgeon + adorable unexpected kid = this one’s going to have to work to earn the respect it wants.
Shot over the course of 12 years around Texas—with the cast convening for a few weeks each year—Boyhood stars Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as the divorced parents of a daughter played Lorelei Linklater and a son played by Ellar Coltrane. The movie focuses mainly on the son, Mason, following him as his makeshift family moves from town to town and circumstance to circumstance, while he keeps growing up regardless.
Writer-director Richard Linklater has made experiments like Boyhood the backbone of his filmography, from the narrative-hopping of Slacker and Waking Life to the feature-length conversations of the Before Sunrise series. Rumors about what Linklater was up to with Boyhood have been passing around the cinephile community since he started shooting in 2002.
A late addition to this year’s Sundance—and then immediately the hottest ticket at the fest—Boyhood struck some critics as too shapeless, with wildly uneven performances throughout. But that was just some critics. Most were over the moon for what is a staggering achievement: a film that stubbornly refuses to develop a plot or reward the audience with sentimental callbacks, because Linklater has other ambitions. Instead, Boyhood captures how childhood zips by as a series of memorable-but-not-always-major moments, set against an ever-shifting backdrop of pop culture and politics.
The secret star of Boyhood is the state of Texas, which Linklater shoots with clear-eyed affection, from the small towns to downtown Houston. Linklater takes it all in—the gun culture, the religious conviction, the liberal enclaves, the gorgeous countryside, the Astros—without judgment.
ANTICIPATION RATING: 9.6
Hands down our most anticipated film of month—and the summer as a whole. We feel like we’ve been waiting 12 years to see this one already.