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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 19.77%
Just Average: 3.49%
Pretty Crappy: 4.65%
Sucks: 1.16%

8 reviews, 38 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Music Makes The People Come Together"
5 stars

“Once” is generally described by those who have seen it as a musical but in a strange way, that hardly seems like an accurate way of referring to it. When we think of a typical movie musical, we inevitably picture highly stylized works in which characters suddenly burst into song at the drop of the hat while the people around them break out into elaborately choreographed dance routines. “Once,” on the other hand, is a far more naturalistic work of cinema that feels less like a standard musical and more like what “Before Sunset” might have been like if Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy suddenly burst into song every few minutes. However, just because it doesn’t play by the standard rules of movie musicals doesn’t mean that it is one of these impossibly arch experiments that will entrance cinephiles and virtually no one else–in fact, this is one of those rare films that I can confidently recommend to virtually anyone looking for a good movie to see–it is hilariously funny, deeply touching, filled with wonderful music and so unabashedly romantic that if you take a date to see it and you don’t get anywhere afterwards, there must be something seriously wrong with either you or your date.

“Once” stars Glen Hansard, a member of the Irish rock group The Frame, as a musician whose stage is the streetcorners of Dublin where he plays for whatever spare change comes his way and who supplements his income by repairing vacuum clears in his father’s appliance store. One day, his singing attracts the attention of a pretty young Czech immigrant (Marketa Irglova) who, as fate would have it, also just happens to have a vacuum cleaner in need of repairing. It turns out that she is a musician as well and before long, they are sitting in the back of a local shop literally making beautiful music together on a floor model piano. Over the course of the next few days, they hang out with each other and as they grow closer, they begin to reveal details of their lives that indicate that while they may seem to be perfect for each other, a real romance is most likely out of the question. However, while a personal union may not be in the cards, that doesn’t prevent a professional one from developing and they decide to record an album together with the support of a small group of fellow street musicians backing them up.

Shooting with hand-held cameras in real locations, writer-director John Carney brings an aura of authenticity to the proceedings that matches his refusal to let the screenplay devolve into the kind of tear-jerking melodrama that it might have become in other hands–when conflicts arise between the two characters, they are the kind of conflicts that really do happen in real life and not the kind that exist only in the minds of desperate screenwriters trying to keep their main characters away from each other for as long as possible. The realistic approach also extends to the numerous musical segments–with one exception (a lovely little moment in which the girl walks down the street in a long shot while going over a song playing on her headset), they are presented as straightforward performance pieces that nevertheless convey enormous amounts of emotion simply from the energy and conviction with which they are sung. (When you go to see the film, make sure there is a music store located next to the theater because you are going to want to purchase the soundtrack the very moment that the end credits begin rolling.)

While talking to Carney a few weeks ago, I learned that “Once” was originally going to a more conventional film and that Cillian Murphy was in talks to play the singer before he dropped out of the project–Hansard, who was originally hired by Carney (who was also a member of The Frames for a time)to write the songs, was pressed into service and recommended Irglova, whom he had already previously written and recorded with, for the other part. If the film had been made with Murphy, it might have turned out to be pretty good (his work in such varied films as “Batman Begins,” “Breakfast on Pluto” and “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” has proved him to be an actor of enormous promise and talent) but his presence would have lent a certain level of artificiality to the proceedings that would have been at odds with the rest of the material. By casting a couple of virtual unknowns in terms of screen appearances (Hansard briefly appeared in that other great Irish music film, “The Commitments” and Irglova has never acted before at all), Carney gives us a screen couple that is more in keeping with his desire for absolute authenticity. Of course, that authenticity wouldn’t matter much if they were unable to create a believable on-screen relationship but right from the start, Hansard and Irglova demonstrate the kind of immediate chemistry that is too often missing from screen romances these days–you will genuinely find yourself caring for these two characters as their up-and-down relationship evolves before your eyes.

Since it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, “Once” has been praised to the skies by virtually everyone who has encountered it. For a low-budget film from a bunch of virtual unknowns, such overwhelming acclaim is a good thing because it means that there is a chance that it will catch on with moviegoers looking for an alternative to all of the blockbuster behemoths clogging the multiplexes. On the other hand, because it is such a low-key film and bereft of elaborate production values, showy sequences designed to set tongues a-wagging or a conclusive ending, there is the distinct possibility that a good number of viewers may walk into it expecting some kind of transformative experience and walk out of it wondering what all the fuss is about. If such a backlash were to occur, it would be a shame because “Once” is the rare small-scale film that actually lives up to the attention that is being lavished upon it–it is an enormously entertaining crowd-pleaser that is, in its own quiet way, pretty damn close to perfection.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15707&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/25/07 10:18:37
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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

11/25/13 sam It is an ok movie if one likes the music, primitive storyline otherwise 2 stars
10/20/11 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
5/09/11 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
12/15/09 Joanna this was my fav movie 5 stars
3/23/09 Anonymous. holy wow, great movie :P 5 stars
1/03/09 julia IMO, the best music film ever made. 5 stars
12/05/08 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
10/31/08 Lucy the best film ever made. my favorite. :] 5 stars
8/23/08 AnnieG Not a musical as it is often described! Boring at times, and overall an evocativefilm. 3 stars
3/10/08 joana very touching esp. if u are into music. you will realize how powerful music can be 4 stars
3/06/08 Jackie Boring & Dull - even if I amthe only one! 2 stars
1/04/08 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
10/02/07 John Hudson Oscars Now! Best film, best score, best original song. Perfect! 5 stars
9/27/07 JMW Thrilled I saw it before I read Erik's reviw, he gives away the joy of discovering 5 stars
9/13/07 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
9/04/07 Pat Perfect. That is all I can say. 5 stars
9/02/07 C.Mason poor quality sound,poor poor production value a rip-off 1 stars
8/29/07 Pinhead Bittersweet, deeply moving, yet still energizing and uplifting 5 stars
8/09/07 Frank 'F-words' humorous, necessary part of show, beautifully done, art, great, touching, yes 5 stars
8/06/07 Private I enjoyed it more than Before Sunset 4 stars
8/05/07 Maggie Curran Delightful, well-scripted and well-acted 5 stars
8/04/07 jcjs33 wow, beautiful, melancholy, perfect, lovely etc. 5 stars
7/29/07 Elizabeth Extremely overrated -- I had such high hopes. 3 stars
7/29/07 suepie Very evocative film, great music 5 stars
6/24/07 Roy F. Moore Other than the "F-words" in the beginning, the movie just shines! 5 stars
6/22/07 Melissa K Weaves a spell of charm and longing with inspired acting and musical performances. 5 stars
6/18/07 Ed Dill An extremely touching film about a relationship fueled by the love of music 5 stars
6/17/07 JB Excellent simple plot and moving music seamlessly integrated. 5 stars
6/09/07 Kathryn Best film of the year. The music is used very skillfully to capture authentic feeling. 5 stars
6/01/07 JT It's unpretentious yet grand in its authenticity. The actors and music are fabulous! 5 stars
5/30/07 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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