Thursday, March 13, 2008
Musicals these days are lavish and carefully orchestrated. They showcase the sometimes questionable singing talents of A-list
Fortunately, the best films of any genre don’t need all the hype. Instead, they rely on a strong story, well-rounded characters, and in the case of Once, a uniquely passionate and fully integrated score that should resonate with any audience. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the two lead actors, won this year’s Oscar (and Grammy) for Best Original Song Written for a Motion Picture. Both of them are professional musicians and they co-wrote several of the songs in the film. They are not professional actors – this is their first film, and they’ve both said they’ll likely never act again – but what they lack in polish they make up for in authenticity as raw as it is true.
Guy (Hansard) could be any bloke with a guitar. By day he works in his dad’s vacuum repair shop; by night he stakes claim to a busy sidewalk in
As Guy and Girl write songs together and inch their way toward a recording studio, they develop an awareness of each other that awakens in them that rare moment of introspection when one realizes the necessity of an honest relationship not only with others but with oneself. Much of this film acknowledges how difficult this can be. In one particularly well-played scene, Guy hesitantly plays one of his songs for his father on a tape recorder as they sit silently at the kitchen table. I won’t spoil the scene by telling you how it turns out, but I will say that the film pivots beautifully during small moments such as these, in turn drawing us deeper into the characters’ circumstances and bringing us to respect rather than question their actions. As viewers we are in capable, if unseasoned, hands.
If for no other reason (though I have plenty), I recommend Once on the merits of the character-driven script, which is so loyal to Guy and Girl that it confounds the viewers’ expectations in surprising, often funny, and ultimately meaningful ways. It is smart without being clever and affective without being sentimental. There aren’t that many films out there willing to take the risk. Once is a love story, sure, but more than that it is a story about loss and sacrifice, about acceptance and doing what it takes to get to where you want to go. We all have dreams and we all have realities. We want to realize one without letting the other get us down. The problem is to determine which one deserves our efforts. Once does an admirable job of working it out, with a memorable soundtrack to boot.