Written and directed by John Carney
Starring: Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
Movie musicals have enjoyed a bit of a revival lately, partly sparked by Baz Luhrman’s 2001 hit, “Moulin Rouge.” After a series of recent duds such as “Hairspray” and “The Producers,” the genre is in need of a fresh perspective. This is exactly what “Once” delivers. I hesitate to even place “Once” in the same category as these other films because it is so much better and completely void of the painful clichés the mere phrase “movie musical” evokes. “High School Musical” this (thank God) is not.
The movie features Glen Hansard as a thirtysomething guy who works in his father’s vacuum repair shop but mostly plays his guitar for tips on the streets of Dublin. He is lonely and in dire need of some inspiration when he chances upon a beautiful Czech girl played by Markéta Irglová. She sells flowers in the street and cleans houses while trying to support her mother and daughter. She is also — conveniently enough — a terrific pianist who dabbles in songwriting herself.
As far as plot, not a lot happens. There isn’t any exhaustive action, fights, or love scenes. It mostly follows the two musicians as they decide to make music together. They assemble a band of street musicians and record a demo tape for Hansard’s character to take to London with the hopes of landing a record deal. “Once” has been lauded as a love story, but I disagree. These two main characters (who are nameless) have a connection and need each other for various reasons, but it is hardly romantic in the conventional sense. This is one of the best things about “Once.” It doesn’t end with the two main characters in each others arms as we expect (or even want). It manages to show something much more realistic.
“Once” is a film that starts out slow but really grows on you until you reach the end and wish that it hadn’t come so soon. At first I was impatient with the film, but it managed to suck me in and make me appreciate even the flaws I could have criticized. As far as the ending, it may leave some viewers unhappy, but this was probably the part that made the film for me. The ending is entirely satisfying without giving into the conventions one expects for the perfect Hollywood happy ending.
There isn’t much dialogue and instead the music takes center stage. Director John Carney lets the songs unfold without distracting direction. There are no dance numbers, no glitter, and no special effects. Carney also manages to weave the music into the film seamlessly. Early in the film, the two main characters play a song together in a music store where the owner lets Irgová’s character play the piano during lunch. It doesn’t at all seem strange that these two people should play music together, and therefore the audience is able to enjoy the moment without wondering why the hell actors are singing or when the regular movie will start again.
“Once” is one of those films that I had heard a lot about, but I just kept missing. Once it was released on DVD, I no longer had an excuse and neither do you. “Once” is the low-key answer to all those completely wretched movies based on musicals based on movies. It may not be for everyone, but it is worth checking out.