Starring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, Geoff Minogue, Bill Hodnett, Danuse Ktrestova
Directed by: John Carney
I was pretty intrigued to see this when it first came out, reading a review that described it as what would happen if Belle and Sebastian wrote a musical. But it only stuck around for a couple weeks, at a time when I was seeing a bunch of blockbuster second sequels. For the rest of the summer, I got to read about this charming little indie that was the anathema to all the big budget schlock that dominated the summer, wishing I had seen it when I had the chance. I bought the soundtrack, downloaded star Glen Hansard‘s band The Frames‘ 2006 album The Cost, then saw it pop up in some year end top ten lists, making this quiet, unassuming little musical my number one must-see DVD release.
Expectations are a funny thing, cause when this movie was building its critical buzz, it was as a little-seen, low-budget charmer, serving as counter programming to Spider-Man 3 or the new Pirates movie. Thus those reviewers who saw it went in with little expectation at a time when they were being worn down by movies about robots that are also cars, and thus it felt fresh, original, even transcendent. It’s the sort of movie, made for about 180,000 and showing on limited screens, that inspires critics to proselytize on its behalf, serving as an oasis in a sea of commercial excess.
But when I finally got a chance to see it, it was six months after its release, having already familiarized myself with the songs, read glowing testimonials to its brilliance, in the mist of a movie season that included some of the best movies of the year. It no longer had the chance to be a low expectation sleeper, given that I’d been looking forward to it for months. As a result, I had a hard time seeing what the big deal was.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fine movie with some genuine charm and verisimilitude. I enjoyed it quite a bit, in particular the reverence it shows for the creative process and the connection people make through good music. Hansard and his real life musical collaborator Mark�ta Irglov� are both very appealing as the film’s stars and musicians, whose chemistry gives the film a comfortable feeling that makes it an easy film to take to heart.
That said, if you’re already familiar with the songs in the movie, or music like it, there isn’t anything else here that’s particularly revelatory or special. Actually, other than the songs, there really isn’t anything else to this movie at all. Hansard plays a “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy” who writes emotional, personal songs that he performs as a busker when not at his day job. There, he meets a girl (Irglov�), and the two connect over their mutual heartbreak and musical appreciation, teaming up to record the guy’s album.
As a musical, Once takes a naturalistic approach, eschewing any big showtune numbers or the unreality of multiple characters breaking into plot-revealing songs. Of course, it would be tough for the characters to break into plot-revealing songs for a movie without any plot. The relaxed, natural approach to the musical makes it more tolerable for those who don’t like musicals (like myself), with the characters singing songs because they’re musicians, so that’s what they do. But, the result is a little like watching a music video or the making of an album featurette during the musical numbers.
If you really connect with the songs and the emotions behind them, then it will be enough to win you over. If you merely think the songs are decent, then you may find the movie a little lacking and wonder why people are taking a perfectly decent little movie and building it up to be something awe-inspiringly amazing.