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Review: Once (2007)

Once (2007)

Directed by: John Carney

Premise: Set in Dublin, an Irish guitarist (Glen Hansard) meets a Czech immigrant (Markéta Irglová) with an aptitude for the piano. The two of them write songs together.

What Works: Once is a love story told through music and the film succeeds largely because of its soundtrack. Lead actors Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are professional musicians and they are credited with writing most of the music and perform it in the film. The songs are great; Once sports one of the best original soundtrack albums of recent years and the songs link to the characters and their love story. Hansard’s character is recently single after being betrayed by his girlfriend while Irglová’s character is married but her husband is still in the Czech Republic. The two of them write songs about their complicated love lives and their hurt and yearning are expressed vividly through their music. The rawness of the songs is complemented by the style of the filmmaking. Director John Carney captures the feel of the Dublin streets and a lot of the movie is shot in a handheld style that’s occasionally interrupted by more polished musical sequences. The film also succeeds because of the likable couple at the center of it. Love stories hinge upon the audience wanting to see the couple succeed and live happily ever after. Hansard and Irglová possess that appeal and Once does an excellent job of teasing the audience as the characters get closer and then farther and then closer again. There is a rare authenticity to this film that carries it through its weaknesses. 

What Doesn’t: The weakest element of Once is its story. There isn’t much to it. The narrative is mostly a framework for Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s music and it often feels that way. There are plenty of nice character moments in it and Hansard and Irglová share an authentic romantic chemistry (perhaps owing to the fact that the two actors were in a romantic relationship at that time). But the story of Once moves forward predictably and the songwriting and recording process has few surprises. This part of the movie is mostly routine. Once satisfies as a romance with an agreeable pair of would-be lovers and a credible obstacle keeping them apart but the story never quite does justice to the music or the chemistry of its lead actors.

DVD extras: Commentary tracks, featurettes, webisodes.

Bottom Line: The narrative weaknesses of Once are mostly overshadowed by the movie’s central performances and excellent songs. Musical films are often times overproduced but Once possesses a raw edge that gives it an emotional impact that many musicals and romances lack.

Episode: #741 (March 17, 2019)