This is a movie I wanted to enjoy but could not. It depressed me because its format is a nice-ish idea but it has major flaws, which I will illustrate with my imagining of the meeting which took place in the film’s creation.
Five ageing musicians, one tired exec trying to find the easy way out of an interview and the decision he doesn’t really want to make. In an office in LA, the day is hot and the mood is sour. The musicians have flown far and hope this might be a good way for people to start buying their music; the exec just wants to find out what the Weinsteins are doing and he’s fearing that this is going to be another dud project.
Musician One: Let’s make a wild, innovative musical. No one has done one for ages and we all know how successful they are.
Exec: What you mean is that very few are successful and contemporary musicals lose money like the titanic.
(cue sound of shouting and wild gesticulations from the musicians, referencing obscure movies and successful contemporary musicals, with made up figures based on what each has made at the box office)
Musician Four: Shut the fuck up. I have seen the most amazing show in Broadway. It’s a love story told through song and it’s called Once. I was just so inspired that I wrote this track as an idea to build a story around it (plays track on a beat up iPhone with an obscure kick-started band or coffee company design on the phone’s protective cover). Pretty good, huh? We wouldn’t have gotten this far if there wasn’t some love for this idea, man. We wouldn’t have travelled this far and dealt with all this LA bullshit just for someone to say no to us. So hear us out.
Exec: (with an air of resignation, he nods his head) Okay, let’s here the pitch. I also want to hear some cast choices and someone to direct this vanity project.
Musician One: It starts in a bar with this fat, decent looking guy . He’s English. HE HAS TO BE ENGLISH. He’s bumbling and charming and not that great but he has the MOST BEAUTIFUL girl with him, filled with hidden pain. She’s a sorrowful type, also English. That would be good as we want them to be like us, but lost in this place. Then he persuades her to come up and sing and then the magic happens as we hear she is like this soulful, fragile Nora Jones type figure, dark eyes and all.
Musician Three: There’s a drunken A&R man. Well, he is listless and drunk and depressed. You see him bawling into his drink. This has to be played by someone who can play the drunken fuck up, probably Mark Ruffalo. He has an old car, he’s a cool man and he falls for her and tries to sign her on the spot and she refuses and then he tells her what a fuck up he is and wants to call.
Musician Two: And we’re seeing this from different perspectives. A sad love story involving betrayal will work better than tragedy. I’m leaving that to you guys.
Exec: Wait, there is more I hop?. It sounds pretty good and there would be all this guitar shit and a pretty girl who can sing, so it’s a love story right? He woos her and they fuck, right? Or is this some deep meaningful thing that you want to angle at awards? A sort of prettier Crazy Love without the batshit old actors. Instead, you’ll have everyone be young and pretty, white and hipster, right?
Musician One: You did get the documentation? We got Ce-lo and some of his buddies involved. It doesn’t matter who you cast, it will be set to perfection. He is already saying he will back it in some form. You don’t know how touchy that motherfucker is.
Exec: So how is he backing it? I assume he wants credit and showing off time, right? That better be fucking budgeted or your toast. I hate working with big musicians (goes on an extended rant about how Jennifer Lopez lost him a job through no fault of his own, according to his story)
Musician One and Three try speaking at the same time saying that it’s all sorted and they go way back with Ce-lo and he loves the idea just as a PA of the exec comes in with drinks.
Exec: We’re doing it in New York? Yeah?
Musician One: Where else would you find loads of Brits who aren’t in hotels? And we all love New York. Let’s make it a bit like all those New York based movies which show New York at its best… If only I could figure out a way to really emphasise that New York feel?
Continues for the next three hours until the Exec is worn out with all the fake enthusiasm he can muster while daydreaming of starting a vineyard north of Beverly Hills while the five musician’s start arguing over the nature of selling out and how their project is a perfect example of genre while getting Weinstein to send them ideas for casting and direction. They feel the luck is with them when they get a call that John Carney really loves the idea and can’t wait to meet them.
Excuse me for doing a review as a fictional account of the movie’s creation, it was just the only way I felt could best express my feeling of sad cynicism for a movie whose concept I would normally like. As I am a huge fan of female singer songwriters and I like most of the cast, bar Keira Knightly, who still after all these years cannot act and is so emotionally flat it’s infuriating, in places James Corden carries the movie almost on his own and Ruffalo has really good emotional range. The singing and the performances are good although the music geek in me complains that it suffers from exactly the problem that it protests against – the over alternation of music and the adding of effects to take the purity of music away from its listeners. On the whole it was a film that I should have enjoyed but came away feeling completely dissatisfied.
Review by Harry Riedl