If there is one film genre I can really do without, it would have to be musicals. I dont hate every musical that comes out of Hollywood. Singin in the Rain, Dancer In the Dark and Chicago are three examples of musicals that are great movies. More often than not however, the idea of watching two hours of people breaking out into song for no apparent reason is (with music coming out of nowhere), to me, a downright idiotic one that I really have a tough time buying into. Making matters worse is that most musicals made today are infected with MTV-style editing, guaranteeing that no particular shot will last longer than say, ten seconds. To paraphrase a popular movie musical from the 1960s, these are a few of my un-favorite things.
Fortunately, silly premises and ADD editing are nowhere to be found in the Irish indie musical, Once. Set in Dublin, Once is the tale of two unnamed people living in Dublin: a busker (Glenn Hansard of the Irish band The Frames) who also works in his fathers vacuum cleaner repair shop, and a young immigrant from the Czech Republic (Marketa Irglova) who does odd jobs to support her mother and young daughter. She also happens to be quite the talented musician (she plays the piano), and over the course of the week, the two decide to combine their talents to make an album. The two begin to fall for each other, but there are a few obstacles standing in their way: she is still married to a man back in the Czech Republic and he is still not quite over his ex-girlfriend.
The storymay bea bit on the familiar side (two people who meet are perfect for each other even if they cant be together, etc.), but that hardly stops Once from being one of themost involving and entertaining films of 2007 so far. John Carney (a former member of The Frames)s assured but unforced directorial hand gives the film a spare, intimate feeling (the film was shot with handheld digital cameras and on a shoestring budget of $150,000) while never once forcing any aspect of the story.
Carney doesnt hit us over the head with big moments of scene-chewing drama where the characters voice paragraphs of impractical dialogue nor does he give us big, staged musical production numbers that end up being as believable as something out of Star Wars. The musical numbers of Once are simply scenes of Hansard or Irglova hanging out in places such as musical instrument stores, apartments and recording studios practicing and performing a series of terrific songs that speak volumes about their characters and what they are and have been going through.
In romantic films of any sort, workable onscreen chemistry between your leads is not only essential, but also mandatory. You can pair two actors together who can act up a storm, but if they dont share that cinematic spark, then cinematic valentine is in serious trouble. Fortunately, both for the movie and viewer, Hansard and Irglova are a perfect match. The acting from both is terrific, they have perfect onscreen chemistry, and both are superb musicians. Hansard and Irglova are so natural in front of the camera that I still find it hard to believe that this is the first lead role in a feature film for either of these remarkably talented individuals (Hansard had a small role in 1991s The Commitments).
I first saw Once back in May of 2007 and was completely won over. Usually when a film like this one makes a major impact on me, I am almost afraid to watch it again due to a fear that the movies impact would lessen, if not completely vanish altogether. A repeat viewing of Once this September didnt lessen my appreciation. It only made me appreciate the movie even more. An absolute joyfrom first frame to last, this is a movie well worth going out of your wayfor.