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Movie review by David MalschThere are so many wonderful things to say about this movie but I'm afraid I really can't put it all into words. It's a movie that makes you want to strap on an acoustic guitar and sing out loud at the top of your voice. Once is about love and hope and sex and dreams but, for once, it doesn't leave you shattered. It is a life affirming film that will bring tears, not of sadness, but of pure joy by spending this little bit of time in the life of these wonderfully amazing characters.
Glen Hansard is The Guy in the story who spends his free time singing on the streets of Dublin for spare change. He is recently split from his girlfriend and has moved back home with his father who owns a vacuum repair shop. When he isn't helping his dad at the shop, he sings on the streets mixing in cover songs by day and his own by night. One night he meets The Girl (Marketa Irglova), a pretty, young Czech immigrant who also works on the street selling anything from flowers to newspapers in order to support her daughter and mother. Fascinated by The Guy, she feels entranced by his music and they start up a warm but cautious friendship together. The Girl is also a musician. She's a classically trained pianist and the only chance she gets to play is in a music store in their village. The owner of that shop lets her come in during lunch hour to practice. It becomes her only escape from her burdensome life's responsibilities.
The Girl takes The Guy to the music store where he teaches her one of his songs. They are a perfect musical fit and at that moment their permanent relationship is sealed. The Girl urges The Guy to record his songs because they are far too important to be left on the streets for spare change. She helps him get into a studio for a weekend to record. They enlist the help of other street musicians and a demo record is cut.
"Once" is a small film with many big things to say. But instead of it becoming a film like Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise/Before Sunset that also has as much to say (and says every word of it), "Once" let's its music do its talking. It truly is a musical, but not in the conventional movie sense. There are no hidden orchestras around the corner when the characters burst into song. There are just two people and their music and it goes from a whisper to a scream at the drop of a hat. These are two individuals who feel more comfortable saying things in musical verse than in typical conversation. The love affair that blossoms between them, though platonic, becomes a love affair for the ages and we the audience fall head over heels right along with them.
This is the movie that "Rent" should have been. This film is so perfect. It is joyous, alive and heartbreaking. It's as good as it gets and after a month of loud and obnoxious part three's like "Spider-Man," "Shrek" and "Pirates of the Caribbean", it's a much welcomed relief. Placing the film's release between these giants of the multiplex could have spelled doom for this little gem but it ends up being the perfect escape from Hollywood's bombardment and unrelenting belief of bigger, louder, better.
Glen Hansard isn't an actor. He is a musician that fronts the Irish rock band, The Frames. His band, once touted to be the successor of U2, unfortunately still finds stardom has escaped them. He played the guitar player in Alan Parker's movie The Commitments 16 years ago and hasn't been on screen again until now. He is perfect here and hearing him sing his songs is a real thrill. I got to meet Glen two years ago at SXSW and he was as generous and real to me that afternoon as he is onscreen here. His amazing lyrics and voice in this film are very reminiscent of another Irish singer/songwriter, Damien Rice who wrote and performed the main song "The Blower's Daughter" in Mike Nichols film, "Closer."
Marketa Irglova is also a musician in real life. She is a Czech singer/songwriter who was only 17-years old when she made this movie. Writer and Director John Carney, not to be outdone, is also a musician and was once a member of Glen's band, The Frames. What he and cinematographer Tim Fleming accomplish with this film is tremendous. There is never a false moment in it. It feels real and looks real with every scene. The film was shot on digital video in and around Dublin and has the exact look and feel it should. A grander production would have taken away from the story. This film works on so many wonderful levels that it's no surprise it won the Audience Award at this year's Sundance film festival.
A film like "Once" doesn't come around very often. Forgive me but you may only see something like it "once" in your lifetime. It is easily one of the very best films of the year to date. And, as a musical, it far exceeds most in that category. It is night and day from anything you will ever see in "Dreamgirls" or "Chicago." It has more life and more talent in it than anything Beyonce or Catherine Zeta-Jones has ever offered.
"Once" breathed some much needed life into this cynical critic and inspires me to be more musical. Music is the spice of life. It is the air we breathe and without it, life is not worth living. Sometimes it takes a film like this to remind you of that and, for me, I am truly grateful.
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