July 2, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: In upbeat 'Begin Again,' music soothes two wounded souls

A burnout music exec (Marl Ruffalo) aids an an unknown talent (Keira Knightley) in 'Begin Again.' (Andrew Schwartz / Weinstein Co.)

“Begin Again” is the sort of musical fairy tale that shouldn’t work at all, but instead does splendidly.

Written and directed by John Carney (“Once”), who has an obvious knack for this kind of thing, the movie is a love story about two people who never fall in love, at least physically. Instead they each patch up their broken lives while gleefully making music.

Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a burnout music executive in desperate need of finding some talent to nurture. He has a teen daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) who he doesn’t spend enough time with and an ex-wife (Catherine Keener) who seems to both resent and treasure his distance.

One drunken night, Dan happens upon Greta (Keira Knightley) performing an original song at a New York club and, where others hear nothing, Dan hears a hit. Carney builds the movie’s opening around this scene, approaching from different perspectives, and eventually we learn that Greta has just broken up with her philandering pop star soul mate (Maroon 5’s Adam Levine).

Dan wants to produce an album with Greta, but funds are scarce, so in the grand “Let’s put on a show!” tradition, they decide to record songs (with a full band) in various places around the city — on rooftops, in subway stations, in back alleys with local kids as background singers.

It’s all thoroughly ridiculous, but Carney has a way of letting the music breeze right over the bumps in the story. It helps that the twiggy Knightley turns out to have a fine voice and that she and Ruffalo have strong chemistry as wounded souls looking to heal.

“Begin Again” sets out to be a feel-good movie and, despite such obvious intentions, it thoroughly succeeds.

'Begin Again'

GRADE: B

Rated R for language

Running time: 104 minutes

tlong@detroitnews.com
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