Sunday, October 12, 2008

Musical movies

Hubs and I watched two movies about music this week: Once and August Rush. Of the two, I much preferred Once.

Here's the skinny: There's this Irish guy (played by Glen Hansard) who's nursing a broken heart. He's a musician, and all his songs seem to be about a particular ex-girlfriend. He plays his guitar and sings in the street for change, also working in his father's vacuum cleaner repair shop to make money. One day, our guy meets a girl (played by Marketa Irglova). The girl, a Czech immigrant, has a young daughter, and she works like crazy (flower seller, paper seller, etc.) to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Turns out, she's also a musician. She plays the piano and writes songs.

The two feel an immediate affinity for one another, and pretty soon, they are playing songs together. The girl has immense confidence in our guy, and she helps him get a small business loan so that he can record a professional demo in a Dublin studio. They get a small band together, haggle with a sound guy over studio space, and spend a wonderful weekend cutting the demo, which everyone pretty much agrees is brilliant.

Over the course of the film, we realize that the two are falling for each other, but the ending is not trite and syrupy. It's real.

What I loved about this movie - The film was shot in a little over two weeks and with a tiny budget. It feels like you are listening in on other people's lives. There is no posturing here, no "acting." Just understated conversations and amazing music. In a movie about musicians, it makes sense that most of the screen time is either spent playing music or talking about music. And the music, largely written and performed by Hansard and Irglova, is wonderful. I'll be buying the soundtrack shortly.

This is a not-to-be-missed film. One of the primary songs in the film, "Falling Slowly," won the Oscar for original music last year. It's gorgeous and deserved the win.

Now, as for August Rush . . . well, it wasn't terrible, but it just didn't do the job for this viewer. The movie tells the story of Evan (Freddie Highmore), a young orphan in a boy's home somewhere in New York State. Evan insists that he can hear music everywhere, that he knows his parents want him and will find him, that he doesn't want to be placed with a new family because he's already GOT a family.

Rewind 11 years to meet Lyla (Kerri Russell), a famed cellist, with a controlling father and an engagement to play with the New York Philharmonic. After her big performance, she meets Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), the lead singer in a band, at a party. The two instantly click and share a passionate night together. However, the next day, Lyla's father forbids her from seeing Louis again and ships her off . . . somewhere.

Lyla later discovers she'd pregnant due to her encounter with Louis, but cannot find him. A car accident late in her pregnancy lands her in the hospital. While Lyla is still unconscious, her father gives her baby up for adoption. When she comes to, he tells her the baby died as a result of the accident. The baby, of course, is Evan.

Back to the present - Determined to find his parents, Evan runs away from the orphanage. "Following the music" lands him in New York, where he meets all sorts of unsavory characters, discovers his own musical talents, and searches for the missing pieces of his family.

While I think the initial concept of this movie was a decent one, it suffered in the execution. Too many plotpoints were thin or didn't make sense. Too many things seemed sooooo improbable that it kept me from fully engaging in the world of the movie. And it was so sugary sweet that I almost got a toothache.

All performances were pretty solid (though one does wonder why Louis' Irish brogue hasn't softened at least a little after living in the U.S. for 10+ years). I fully believe that, with a better script, this could have been a great movie.

As hubs said, "I might have liked it better if I had been a 17-year-old girl."

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