It is no secret that some of director John Carney’s films own musical themes. This former bass player from The Frames has carried his musical beat to the big screen, and the transition from stage to movies has been seamless.
If you are sitting at home, your toes are a tapping and the wish for a great movie is rushing over you, look no further than Netflix and these Carney gems. All three pictures are not traditional musicals, but their central themes revolve around music and song. Oh, after viewing each film, you’ll probably want to immediately buy the soundtracks. Enjoy!
“Once” (2007) – It’s a story as old as time itself: the chance encounter, and this version of the classic tale is beautifully and originally told in 2007’s indie surprise from Ireland, “Once.”
Carney shoots this no-frills film primarily by hand-held cameras – sometimes in dimly lit rooms, sometimes on dark streets and one specific scene from across the street into a noisy sandwich shop – as we witness the meeting of two genuine people – Guy (Glen Hansard) and Girl (Marketa Irglova).
Yes, as audience members, we never discover the true names of Guy and Girl, but we do experience their relationship from the very beginning: their first meeting on Grafton Street in Dublin.
They don’t believe that they have much in common but soon discover that they share the same musical vision, accompanied by their individual talents on the guitar and piano, respectively.
The story unfolds over the film’s 1-hour 25-minute runtime and conveyed through the power of music. No sudden dance numbers appear out of nowhere with flashing lights, sequins and a big band orchestra. Their narrative is told conversationally through a broken and battered acoustic guitar and borrowed pianos. These songs pour from these two, as they attempt to shake their past failures and look with hope to an unknown future.
The signature number from the picture is “Falling Slowly” which won the 2007 Oscar Award for Best Original Song in a Motion Picture, and when it hits the screen, you’ll know immediately and realize exactly why the Academy recognized it.
“Once”, however, is not a one-note picture. On the contrary, it’s a film about connection and chemistry. Two somewhat-lost individuals who enter each other’s lives out of absolutely nowhere, and who pick each other up and create something pure, something positive…something beautiful.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ out of ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ (Netflix, DVD only)
“Begin Again” (2013) – At an open mic night in a laid back New York City pub, a 30-something Brit, Steve (James Corden), asks his friend to play a song. Greta (Keira Knightley) – while sitting on a nearby couch with the audience – quietly refuses but after much badgering, she reluctantly trudges on stage.
Right away, we discover life isn’t breaking well for Greta, and she addresses the audience by saying, “So, this is a new song for anyone who has ever been alone in the city.”
She then breaks into an engaging, soft ballad reminiscent of a Lisa Loeb track and opens with, “So you find yourself at the subway with your world in a bag by your side.”
This moment thoroughly captivates everyone in the movie audience, but the patrons on screen seem disinterested at best, except for one, Dan (Mark Ruffalo). Dan sees what everyone in the movie theatre sees and hears and much more. He wants to make a record, a record financed on a shoe-string budget. With no cash to pay any backup musicians, they will need to hire a ragtag bunch who will work for – basically – free. Knightley’s Greta is vulnerable, sweet, broken-hearted, but owns a bit of a determined-streak. Making music – with Dan as her producer – could be the medicine to mend her broken dreams.
Knightley definitely owns genuine musical gifts and delivers very appealing melodies in the form of six songs on the film’s soundtrack. Knightley does also share the stage with some other big-time actors including Catherine Keener and Hailee Steinfeld, but she splits singing duties with Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. Her shining screen presence is completely obvious and Greta’s story through song, heartbreak and healing – along with an organic construction of her band among various New York City locales – will make you smile.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ out of ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ (Netflix, Streaming and DVD)
“Sing Street” (2016) – “The girl. It’s all about the girl, isn’t it?”
Ask most 15 year-old boys that question, and they will probably answer, “Yes!”
In “Sing Street”, for Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) – a 15 year-old Dubliner – the answer to his older brother’s (Jack Reynor) inquiry is also a strong affirmative. You see, Conor falls hard for a pretty, but aloof, brunette named Raphina (Lucy Boynton) and he figures the way to her heart is to form a band and feature her in their music videos.
An average high school boy chasing a beautiful girl is a classic story, and Carney’s wonderfully entertaining, music-filled, coming-of-age picture looks back at an inspirational time for modern rock, the 1980s, to tell it. Now, inspiration in 1985 Dublin might seem hard to come by, on the surface. During very trying economic times, the movie mentions that many Irish people were searching for jobs – and better lives – by hopping on ferries and moving to England.
In a recent interview, Carney mentioned that music became a place of solace when he ran into difficult periods in his life, and Conor looks for the same medium for comfort and, of course, to get The Girl. The film does a colorful job of painting Conor’s school, Synge Street, as a ragtag, juvenile – and sometimes comedic – asylum of sorts, where adolescent boys attempt to reach for clarity, but their judgment becomes stymied and clouded by mad rushes of testosterone in the crowded and chaotic hallways and courtyards.
Fortunately, Conor finds an ally in Darren (Ben Carolan), a short red-headed kid with braces who carries handmade business cards on small rectangular cardboard pieces. With terrific instincts, Carney pulls a hilarious ode to the Irish musical “The Commitments” (1991), as the boys go door-to-door to recruit their brothers-in-music for a hopeful trip to superstardom. Along their journey, the conversations between the kids have a “Sandlot” or “Goonies”-feel, except they enjoy a tighter camaraderie, as they nearly always work together towards a common goal: creating their own music.
Magically, Carney piles us into his time machine and sends us on a nostalgic and passionate trip to the sights, sounds and styles of the early music video era. Sure, 1985 was a unique time, but Carney explores other themes that are timeless. Just like stacks of amplifier equipment and speakers, “Sing Street” carries lots of weight, and its mix of fun pop music with an exploration into the unfair stage of life called the teen years completely satisfies.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ (Netflix, Streaming and DVD)