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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 19.77%
Average: 3.49%
Pretty Bad: 4.65%
Total Crap: 1.16%

8 reviews, 38 user ratings

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by Tony Hansen

"A busker busks what we deem dreams"
5 stars

John Carneyís "Once" is a great film. More could be written Ė and more will be written Ė but this straightforward statement is appropriately simple for a film that is, itself, appropriately simple. Free of pretension and cynicism, "Once" is an inspired musical. It takes away the pomp of other, more bombastic, films and replaces it with modest reserve. Itís not maudlin, like many other films that attempt to rouse the flickering embers of the viewersí collective heart cockles. Being a work of considerable compassion, "Once" is a ďmovingĒ picture, in every sense of the word . . . Now, with the overly-effusive gushing out of the way, letís silence our heart strings for a few paragraphs and attempt a less sniffling review.

Once is the story of a down-on-his-luck street musician (Glen Hansard) who comes in contact with a female musician (Marketa Irglova). Both are dealing with relationships that are failing. Feeling the need to have another person in their life, the two develop a friendship and decide to make music together. And then . . . well . . . thatís pretty much everything there is to say about the filmís plot. Nothing of particular nail-biting importance happens to these never-named people, and blood, sweat, and tears are never spilled. But the film retains an importance because its themes are universal. There is a healing power to music. Friendship is an essential part of life. Dreams can come true. Of course, at this point your eyes are rolling. This must seem like the silliest bit of business ever to be burned onto celluloid. Somehow, though, itís not. Somehow, this is a movie that will turn even cynical emotional robots into bundles of optimistic mush.

The resultant sensitive nature of the film comes specifically from certain directorial choices made by Carney. First, Carney has decided to subvert many of the typical clichťs found in lesser films. For example, unlike many films where conflict is derived from disapproving parents, the protagonistís father in Once is actually very supportive of his sonís desires to become a musician. He doesnít complain that his son isnít spending more time working in the family owned vacuum repair shop, and he doesnít dismiss his sonís dreams of becoming a more reputable musician.

A more important undermined convention is the way in which Carney has created a film virtually without conflict. Seriously, this film creates absolutely no anxiety in the viewer. Any inclination to sit at the edge of your seats will be dashed by a comfortable calm. The film is a veritable chill pill. And itís so refreshing. Once will be released amid the summer blockbusters, and what a brilliant little piece of counter-programming it will be. While pirates struggle to find Jack Sparrow and Spiderman struggles with the monster within, the characters of Once donít struggle with much of anything at all. The filmís a remedy to those who have been pumped full of all that Hostel: Part 2 fearful adrenaline.

Some of the warmth of the story comes from the way in which the film was shot. Uniquely, Carney has constructed his movie musical on the shoulders of realists. Filmed on-location, there is a certain raw quality to the cinematography, which creates an affectionate and inviting experience. As this method of photography is matched with the nature of the film as a musical, the audience finds that Once reaches a level of intimacy not seen in your typical song and dance spectacle. When MGM tapped and hoofed into the hearts of the movie going public back in the 1930s, the attraction was escapism. Interestingly, Once, as has already been suggested, is also an escapist film. But while 1930s MGM lifted society out of the depression, Once lifts its viewers out of the doldrums of todayís vapid and hollow blockbusters. With this in mind, itís tempting to suggest, then, that MGM saved lives and Once saves art, but this type of statement fails to reveal Onceís humanity and the way it creates empathy for its characters. The stars of the Depression-era MGM films were just as the moniker suggests Ė stars, distant spectacles that brighten lives. In Once, Hansard and Irglova are not stars as much as they are friends, people whom we know and, more importantly, people who know us. Therefore, when Hansard sings about heartache, itís difficult to dismiss his sentimentality. We feel his pain.

To be fair, the emotion that emanates from the songs isnít just a result of the filmís presentation. Hansardís and Irglovaís compositions are genuinely good. The music in Once is a sort of singer/songwriter folk, but it lacks all of the pretensions of some of the worst of that genre. Hansard, in particular, demonstrates an ability to create music that devastates the listener and then rebuilds over the destruction. A veteran of the film, The Commitments, Hansardís work follows in the spirit of that film and lifts the viewer. Although the music is different, the results are the same Ė the audience canít help but be inspired.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator, Joss Whedon, once stated that in preparing his show it was important for him to give to his fanatical audience not what they wanted, but what they needed. After all, who always wants the predictable? Or, in other terms, who can survive on sugar alone? While Whedonís ideas are sound, especially for television, Once proves that sometimes all you need is the sweet stuff. For Carneyís audience, what they need is also what they want.

Thus, ultimately, "Once" is a film that isnít afraid to make things simple, sweet, and easy. Itís a surprisingly filling puff film with passionate music that never ceases to uplift. And itís as straightforward as that . . . Now, Iím going to get a tissue.

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originally posted: 05/24/07 04:25:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 San Francisco Film Festival For more in the 2007 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/26/13 sam It is an ok movie if one likes the music, primitive storyline otherwise 2 stars
10/21/11 Joey One of the most heart-felt movies I've seen, complete with outstanding music. 5 stars
8/01/11 Piz Formulaic boy-meets-girl snoozer that's carried by a couple of decent folk songs 2 stars
5/10/11 Stephanie Worth watching just for the excellent music! Beautiful. 4 stars
9/13/10 MP Bartley A beautiful, sweet film. 5 stars
4/13/10 ES It was ok, but musicals are never great 3 stars
12/16/09 Joanna this was my fav movie 5 stars
3/24/09 Anonymous. holy wow, great movie :P 5 stars
1/04/09 julia IMO, the best music film ever made. 5 stars
12/06/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
11/01/08 Lucy the best film ever made. my favorite. :] 5 stars
8/24/08 AnnieG Not a musical as it is often described! Boring at times, and overall an evocativefilm. 3 stars
3/11/08 joana very touching esp. if u are into music. you will realize how powerful music can be 4 stars
3/07/08 Jackie Boring & Dull - even if I amthe only one! 2 stars
1/05/08 Taylor Fladgate Great chemistry, great songs, great story. 5 stars
12/07/07 Martin dude theres no country called Czechoslovakia, prof reviewer should know it unless u r Amer. 4 stars
10/03/07 John Hudson Oscars Now! Best film, best score, best original song. Perfect! 5 stars
9/28/07 JMW Thrilled I saw it before I read Erik's reviw, he gives away the joy of discovering 5 stars
9/14/07 DC good flick, but I didn't write home about it 4 stars
9/05/07 BertRito Incredible. That's all I can say... 5 stars
9/05/07 Pat Perfect. That is all I can say. 5 stars
9/03/07 C.Mason poor quality sound,poor poor production value a rip-off 1 stars
8/30/07 Pinhead Bittersweet, deeply moving, yet still energizing and uplifting 5 stars
8/10/07 Frank 'F-words' humorous, necessary part of show, beautifully done, art, great, touching, yes 5 stars
8/07/07 Private I enjoyed it more than Before Sunset 4 stars
8/06/07 Maggie Curran Delightful, well-scripted and well-acted 5 stars
8/04/07 jcjs33 wow, beautiful, melancholy, perfect, lovely etc. 5 stars
7/30/07 Elizabeth Extremely overrated -- I had such high hopes. 3 stars
7/29/07 suepie Very evocative film, great music 5 stars
6/25/07 Roy F. Moore Other than the "F-words" in the beginning, the movie just shines! 5 stars
6/23/07 Melissa K Weaves a spell of charm and longing with inspired acting and musical performances. 5 stars
6/19/07 Ed Dill An extremely touching film about a relationship fueled by the love of music 5 stars
6/18/07 JB Excellent simple plot and moving music seamlessly integrated. 5 stars
6/10/07 Kathryn Best film of the year. The music is used very skillfully to capture authentic feeling. 5 stars
6/02/07 JT It's unpretentious yet grand in its authenticity. The actors and music are fabulous! 5 stars
5/31/07 Jim Brandt Best romantic comedy since Notting Hill. Honest music, like Prairie Home Companion... 5 stars
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  16-May-2007 (R)
  DVD: 18-Dec-2007



[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  John Carney

Written by
  John Carney

  Glen Hansard
  Marketa Irglova

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