Friday, February 15, 2008


Though everyone has been talking about the movie musical in terms of adaptations of Hairspray and Sweeney Todd (the former I have not seen in its entirety, the latter I loved), the low-budget and low-key Once is the best movie musical of 2007. I realize I make that statement and haven't seen all of Hairspray but let's face it, my statement is unlikely to change if I ever decide to watch the rest. I'd say since the serious re-emergence of the musical as a film genre with Moulin Rouge in 2001, this is probably the most affecting of all.

It seems that nothing in this film should succeed. It was made for practically no money; the plot is relatively simple and the two leads aren't experienced actors. Nonetheless, the elements come together with quietly devastating results; thanks to the musical work of the two leads, Frames frontman Glen Hansard and Czech musician Marketa Irglova (together, both composed the entire musical score, I might add). Writer-director John Carney manages to use their sincerity and musical skill to great advantage. The plot involves a husker-by-day, streetsinger-by-night with an incredible gift for songwriting who meets a rose-selling immigrant on the streets of Dublin. Together they share a kinship - no - passion (that word gets thrown around too much but its most appropriate in this case) for music. In a short span (the film covers about a week's time), they come together and well, make beautiful music. Sorry, but there's no other way of putting it without cheapening it. The songs string together the story, often commenting on the character's emotions while underscoring onscreen action. From such simplicity comes rich dimension. The two leads have both gone on record saying that they probably won't act again (pity); however, they have been nominated for the Best Song Oscar for "Falling Slowly," the best song in the film.

This song is heard twice; once in its formative stages in the beginning of the film as he teaches her in a little music store. It was at this point of the film, I completely surrendered myself, and there was no return. Patient, well-paced and emotionally overwhelming, everything you need to know is expressed through the music. Add to that, it's also one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard in my life. Yes, the songs are diegetic; they - and we - are aware they are singing. However, as we watch these collaborators express their heart and soul in their art, you almost forget they are singing, it's that transportative. The creative bond that the two share transcends the usual sex-laden, superficial and supercilious sappiness that pervades most romantic films; for that emotional honesty I am nothing short of thankful. The film manages to accomplish much in terms of expression with a lack of pretention. I can't wait to watch it again; I feel like the experience can only be enriched the second time around and I don't think I'm wrong.

I haven't been so moved by a score since I attended the opening night of The Light in the Piazza almost three years ago. I hope if and when you see this movie that you can have a fraction of the emotional response I have had. Duncan Sheik wishes he could write a contemporary score as effective as this.

My only qualm with the film? It was too short. But I must contradict myself by adding, if they made it any longer or bigger, it would destroy the charm and ambience. There have been films, plays and musicals that have ended and I've wondered what becomes of the characters post media res. Well, my curiosity for such information has never been more piqued. I want to know what becomes of these characters so badly. And I hope they never make a sequel; it's that perfect.

I'm still a complete wreck two hours later.

1 comment:

SarahB said...

Noah and I saw this at the theatre. It was beautiful!