ON AMERICAN IDOL THIS WEEK, I happened to catch a snippet of one of the hopeful singers performing a lovely song, and so kept tuned in long enough to recognize the source: an original piece from the Irish indie Once (2007), which I had just seen a couple nights prior. Fortuitous I caught that, as this year’s Idol bored me out of the gate — it seems they’ve done away with the humorously awful tryouts that always made the first several episodes of the show so fun. So I’ve done my best to avoid the show this season.
Why fortuitous? Because it allowed me to reach a better understanding of this special little movie. Upon watching it, I felt a little let down. It’s basically a broke boy (“Guy”)-meets-broke immigrant girl (“Girl”) tale that we’ve all seen before, with the main storyline distinction being that the characters both have considerable musical talent, and are both tied away from each-other in such a way as to make difficult the development of any romance.
The story is handled here and there in a contrived, clichéd way, and there are problems with some of the musical numbers sounding un-‘live’ — some of the supposedly live performances seemed to me like overt studio productions. For example, a scene in which “Girl” walks down the street singing with headphones must have been recorded in studio; there is a sonic quality which does not mesh with the picture. This problem I found distracting at times, though I imagine a lot of viewers might not notice the discord at all. In fact, it may just be that the movie did not play well on my stereo — but that’s all I have to go by. Another issue: I am generally very good at picking up on thick dialects, as long as the language is English. But there were times in this film when I actually had to turn on captioning to figure out an important word here or there.
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You might think by all I’ve said that I didn’t like Once, but that’s not at all the case. The obvious comparison here is last year’s Inside Llewyn Davis [prior post], which did not have any issues with sound recording. So why is Once such a better movie? One key element is the music. Whether or not the songs had an occasional unwarranted ‘studio’ sound, it was nonetheless lovely, original, compelling music. The music of Once is what really sets it apart — indeed, its theme song won the Oscar that year.
The budding, yearning romantic friendship, portrayed with excellent acting by all involved, is the other strength of this movie. I wish more had been done with the story — at a brief 86 minutes, this is one of the few times I would have liked to have seen a longer film — but what is there is golden. There is undeniable chemistry between “Guy” and “Girl”, and watching it play out on screen was a pleasure. 7/10
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Comparison Notes: Recommended: Les Misérables, Walk The Line, Rock of Ages, Shine, Ever After, Searching for Sugar Man, Crazy Heart, My Name Is Joe, Blue Valentine (street scene with guitar); Not Recommended: Inside Llewyn Davis