reviewed by Andrew James
The films starts with a street musician playing to a very few people on the streets of Dublin. It is immediately apparent that this guy has talent as the song he performs is melodic and heartfelt. When he meets "the girl," they form a quick bond through their collective love and talet with music. She, as it turns out, plays the piano extremely well and also can write lyrics, music and has a beautiful voice to boot. Together they lean on each other through a few rough experiences and discover together, their dream of making music for a purpose; not just for themselves.
The film is put together through mostly a hand-held (store-bought Sony) camera and keeps us within arms reach of each character at all times. We never lose track of them, nor do we want to. Much of the film feels like a home movie and we're just reliving all the memories and the story of these characters. Although we never learn their names (referred to as "guy" and "gal" in the credits) we seem to be drawn to them in a very human way and genuinely care about their thoughts and feelings. Their relationship is not full of the typical Hollywood romance bullshit. Although it could be argued that the acting is a little... inexperienced at times, the characters friendship is nevertheless extremely real and very intimate with the audience and totally believable.
With a masterful soundtrack performed by the actors (actually it's the other way around: the musicians acted in the movie), I found myself fully-completely emmersed in the sounds and feeling of the perfectly crafted songs. I bought the soundtrack on the way home and haven't quit listening to it since. It was one of the only films I can ever remember seeing in which NOBODY left during the closing credits. There were about 30-40 people in my screening and aside from one old lady with a cane (who stood in the back and watched), everyone sat still and watched for the names of the actors and musicians. I was right there with them and I couldn't believe there wasn't a mad rush to the door the second "THE END" appears on screen.
My only real complaint about the film is the needless use of foul language. Though I've been assured that this is how people in Ireland speak, I think the film could've gotten a PG-13 rating, maybe even a PG rating had the language been tuned down a notch. I'm not the conservative, square guy and I do think harsh language is fine (even necessary) in most of the films I see. With Once, I felt like it was there totally needlessly and mostly only in the opening 10 minutes scene. It's a shame that this fantastic film won't open to broader audiences and make the money it deserves, simply because the film makers felt the need to add fifteen "F-bombs" in the opening sequence.
Having said that, John Carney has thrown together a truly artful, independent film that is brimming with heart and soul; mostly through the music the main characters are generating. It is a story of coping and collaboration that Hollywood only dreams they could piece together in such a real and personal way. The only way I could see someone NOT liking this film is if they are turned off by the music; in which case they are cold and have no taste.
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