Thursday, March 11, 2010

Review: Once (John Carney, 2007)

What hasn't already been said about Once. This uplifting, heartwarming documentary-style music film from 2007 left a tear in my eye very early on. The sequence where the pair perform a moving duet in a music store is just beautiful. I was incredibly moved throughout as the pair has a series of encounters that brings them closer together. Through this chance meeting, both take massive steps towards their dreams of becoming successful and renowned musicians, work out their complex personal relationships and seek a happy future life, albeit apart. We are never formally introduced to the central characters, they just exist as the guy and the girl. Set in Dublin, the film opens with the ‘Guy’ (played by musician Glen Hansard), busking on the streets for a few extra pennies to one day fund his dreams of professional musicianship. He also works at a hoover repair shop with his father. The title sequence sees him battling a young drug addict for his accumulated coin stash and even from there you can tell that this will be something special. The natural feel of realism, the informal dialogue, and the quietly observing camera are special characteristics of this film.
One evening he is approached by the beautiful ‘Girl’ (played by Marketa Irglova), a Czech immigrant flower seller and single mum who lived with her mother. She is personally moved by one of his songs and questions him about it. At first irritated by her questions, he agrees to mend her vacuum cleaner the following day. She meets him again during his break from the shop; they have lunch and play a duet at a local music store. He is delighted that she can play the piano and they collaborate their talents, and sing along the lyrics he himself had composed. The song is beautiful and the chemistry between the two effortlessly electrifying. This chemistry hints at a future professional and romantic relationship. After fixing her hoover for a fraction of the price, he plays her some of his work and it seems obvious that they have a special once-in-a-lifetime bond. Lonely, and infatuated, he asks her to stay the night, briefly forcing her away.
Throughout the film they converse about their previous relationships. Many of his songs are influenced by and addressed to a former lover, who has since moved to London. She tries to talk him into pursuing her and playing the songs that will surely win her back. She reveals that she in married and her husband lives in the Czech Republic. He plans to visit soon. So a relationship beyond friendship, while so tempting and so perfect, isn’t possible. With the help of some fellow street musicians, the duo seeks out a loan to fund the recording of some demo tracks. Much to the surprise of the producer at the studio, the collaboration is a big success, and they perform brilliantly. Despite his pleads to see her again before he leaves, she does not show, and he leaves, but not without buying her the grand piano from the store where they first played together. It is such a sad, yet inspiring tale. True love is out there and you can find it when you least expect it. Their encounter changed both of their lives. The performances are special, the songs wonderfully charming, and are embedded in the plot as a soundtrack to their lives. The carefully observing, not encroaching camera is perfect as it distances itself from the pair and we watch them flirt and bond uninhibited. The song “Falling Slowly” won a 2008 Academy Award for Best Original Song for a Motion Picture. Once is a small-budget romantic comedy that much of Hollywood’s crap could learn a thing or two from. I already want to watch it again!

My Rating: 4 Stars

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