When Keira Knightley’s Greta writes songs with her boyfriend, rising rock star Dave (Maroon 5’s Adam Levine), the earnest results at least have simplicity and sincerity in their favour. Imagine her pique then, when he not only shags someone else but squanders their songs’ virtues with big, glossy, clichéd re-recordings…
John Carney’s second romantic musical is a big, glossy, clichéd remix of ideas from his low-key sleeper beauty Once (2006), but the outcome is a happy one: Carney’s sincerity isn’t entirely swamped. Even with A-listers taking the place of Once’s semi-unknowns, his winning way with earthy characters mostly holds firm.
Mark Ruffalo is worth his weight in gold records as Dan, a drunken, broken-down music-biz veteran who discovers the broken-hearted Greta at an open-mic night and urges her to record an album on the hoof. With shabby, galvanising charm, Ruffalo helps draw out Knightley’s easiest, breeziest performance yet and often shepherds Carney’s plot over its bum notes.
But bum notes butt in when Carney shifts focus to Knightley and stunt-casting dullard Levine, a pairing too superficial to engage. Worse still, Carney neglects Dan’s home troubles: Catherine Keener is wasted as Dan’s wife, though she lends her limited screen time effortless indie cred.
The gentle lightning of Once doesn’t strike twice for Carney, but his latest music movie has charm beneath its slick surface – and Knightley and Ruffalo harmonise just fine.