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Once (2006)

January 22, 2010

8/10 Broken Hoovers

Might just be the best musical of the past decade.

Once is about a street musician in Ireland with ambitions of greatness and the pianist he meets along the way. The two become quick friends and they start writing and performing music together while working through their own complicated relationships with their estranged significant others.

I’m thinking some folks out there might take issue with this movie being categorized as a musical, but I ain’t hearing that noise, I’m not really one for musicals to begin with and this is about as good as it gets for me. This isn’t a musical in the traditional sense where the cast is singing the plot along, it’s more like watching an album play out on screen as the lyrics reflect the characters’ feelings that they don’t bring to the surface when they’re simply talking to one another.

As a result, the final product ends up feeling refreshingly natural without coming off as dramatic as say, Chicago. And that’s the biggest strength of Once, that you buy it, that it’s like watching ordinary people with extraordinary gifts interacting with one another rather than a trip down Bob Fosse lane.

The acting on behalf of newcomers Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are a big contributor to this whole vibe. These two aren’t actors and, thankfully, they’re well aware of that. The reason this ends up working in their favor is that they don’t dress up their performances, they act as though the cameras aren’t there. When they’re not playing music, it’s just great to listen to them talk because they’re very grounded and endearing personalities that are clearly very comfortable around one another. They don’t ham it up or get over-emotional about the stuff going on in their lives, they let the music do the talking and that’s exactly what makes their characters work.

The script by writer/director John Carney is also wonderfully honest and colloquial in the ways it moves the story along and organically (throwing out some fancy words now) develops its characters. Had me cracking up here and there, too.

But Once is as much about the music as it as about anything else. The whole soundtrack is more or less the brainchild of Hansard and Irglova and some of their performances gave me the chills it was so good. Not only does it all sound great and was totally deserving of the Oscar it won, but it is really something else to watch these two get so wrapped up in their music to the point where their passion for what they’ve created is nothing short of palpable.

Just phenomenal music and even if the style’s not your thing, it’s hard not to appreciate it in some regard. Always nice to see the little guys beat the biggies, too.

And hey, if you end up going head over heels for the stuff, these two lovebirds are now on tour under the name of The Swell Season. Been meaning to check ’em out, betting it’s quality.

Once is one of those movies that I love to hear other people talk about. It works extremely well regardless of gender and I just dig subtle movies like this that veer away from the formulaic and go for what’s real. It’s not flashy, it’s not an A-list movie, but it’s got more heart than most musicals I can think of and that’s one of the many reasons why it’s great.

And it’s set in Dublin. Dublin rocks.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 22, 2010 7:56 am

    I caught this film a few months back and managed to switch it on in the music shop when they start singing Falling Slowly. It hooked me immediately but I was, for the next ten or so minutes, wondering what exactly I was watching. A Musical? A drama with live music?

    Ultimately, I felt it was like an extended music video with drama and character-progression joining each song. And it’s great for what it is. Hansard and Irglova aren’t great actors but it’s the music that does the talking and it’s really powerful at times. They’re both excellent song writers and it’s the music that makes this film so watchable.

  2. January 22, 2010 9:19 am

    Sorry to rock the boats guys but this film just didn’t do it for me. The guy was far too whiny and boring.

    If this counts as a musical my vote’s on ‘Hedwig’, ‘The Wayward Cloud’ or the ‘Happiness of the Katakuris’ for the best of the decade dude!

  3. January 22, 2010 11:29 am

    I loved this movie. It was made on a tiny budget of ~$160K and it goes to show you you don’t need fancy sets, locations or well-known actors to make a good movie

  4. Branden permalink
    January 22, 2010 2:07 pm

    This movie fucking awesome. I have no idea what’s wrong with “Paragraph Films”. This is a “musical” that guys would love and not be ashamed of it. Glen and Marketa are not trained actors, but the music is great.

  5. March 16, 2010 9:17 am

    The movie is great, it’s great because of it’s simple and honest take on love and relationships.

    Aiden, if you haven’t yet checked out The Swell Season, then you need to, they are indeed quite choice.

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