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ONCE, 2007
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ONCE MOVIE POSTER
ONCE, 2007
Movie Reviews

Directed by John Carney
Starring: Markťta IrglovŠ, Glen Hansard
Review by Anthony Suen



SYNOPSIS:

On the streets of Dublin, a struggling street musician encounters a flower seller while playing, and is impressed by his music. Initially doubtful, he soon finds comfort in the similar love of music the two share, and soon a friendship stemming from both the love of musicianship and recently broken hearts forms. The two embark on a musical journey out of love for each other and music to learn a bit more about love, hope and themselves.

OSCAR winner for Best Original Song

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REVIEW:

Musicals are tacky. Thatís my prejudiced and judgmental view of musical films. Iíve never enjoyed the thought of breaking out into dance in the middle of the movie. I enjoy continuity and realism, maybe splashed with a little stretches of imaginationóbut randomly singing out of the blue? Not my cup of tea. However, after watching movies like Grease (back when I was 10, and could hardly remember any of it), and the joyful Hairspray, the idea of musical films grew and grew on me, until I was daydreaming in class about breaking into a song explaining why homework is inherently useless in my life. Now I can watch them with a smile on my face and a hop in my step, bobbing my head to the sound of the beat and singing along if I knew the lyrics. To my pleasant surprise, Once provided no such experience.

While I do enjoy most Disney movies, which are basically all musicals, and recent ones like Hairspray, I have to admit Once may top them all. Thatís my opinion on the matter. It isnít like any musical Iíve ever seen, and itís so obscure about it that it could even mask itself in another genre all together. No matter which way you look at it, Once is a film worth experiencing, mainly because of its genuine romance and feeling that it providesóitís a film that will lift your heart, no questions asked.

The film follows a young street musician on the streets of Dublin, bustling and crowded as pedestrians walk back and forth. The musician we are introduced to is not impressively handsome or a starry-eyed beauówith no offense to Glen Hansard, as he out-performs most actors Iíve seen in romancesóbut a modest looking, scruffy-bearded Dubliner who is just trying to make a dayís pay and go back to his small apartment above his dadís vacuum repair shop. What I like about this kind of character introduction is it shies away from the overt-the-top, fairy-tale type story most romances or musicals begin with, and it just feels real. I find myself relating to this film more than I relate to other romances, mainly because most others are fairy-tales themselves.Ē

This film is much an outstanding underdog achievement as it is an accomplishment in the musical and romance genre. Winning Best Song (Falling Slowly) at the 2008 Academy Awards, it has become a sleeper hit in the music and film scene. Its soundtrack is pretty much everywhere now, and I listen to it almost daily because of the beautiful songs the film sings. Why the film is so successful is mainly because of the filmmakerís approach to the film. The director, John Carney, was the bassist for Glen Hansardís band, the Frames. The production of the movie was primarily by musicians, secondary to filmmakers; something I think separates this film from the rest. Neither cast members, Glen Hansard or Markťta IrglovŠ, had any formal acting training. Both are exceptional musicians however, and I can go as far as saying for filming Once, acting wasnít necessary, because their actions seemed so natural that it was just them interacting in front of a camera.

Real; thatís probably the most accurate description of this film. Coming from a genre that is far from reality, especially with the fairy-tales and perfect matches we see in romance as well, that is something to say about this film. But undoubtedly, it felt real watching it. Hansard even said at that the movie was filmed using two Sony Handycams. The camerawork, as well as the acting, combined with the modest, but touching plot, kept the naturalistic style throughout. This movie is a real romance, and itís also a real musical. Usually we marvel at films that stretch our imaginations and bring us to places weíve never dreamed of going, yet we equally enjoy seeing reflections of reality; films that keep the realism high in order to make audiences appreciate whatís in front of them, and ultimately with the purpose of being relatable. Once is a truly relatable film, and with a topic such as love, that is a tall order to fill.

Witnessing the interactions between these two characters, aptly named Guy and Girl, itís a moving experience. Both characters have recently had relationship problems; the guy has broke up with his girlfriend and sheís moved back to London, and the girl has spousal troubles at home in Czech Slovakia and decided to leave to Dublin for a while. Both are trying to make a living the way they know best; both are doing it so they can forget about someone or something. Both of them are heart-ached and confused when we first meet them. They are real people. I could even say they werenít acting, because Hansard and IrglovŠ knew each other before hand, playing together and releasing an album. Seeing them on-screen, such modest and homely characters, it hardly feels fake, or scripted; what theyíre doing is natural.The truly magical scenes that give me goose bumps and leave me wondering how beautiful something could be are the instances when music is played. Both times when IrglovŠís character plays for the Guy, I am at a loss for words. He stares at her like sheís an angel, and she stares at him with a tiny smile. As real as this film is, it could not get more adorable. When later on in the movie the two score a recording session in a local studio, she finds a pristine piano to which she instinctively sets her fingers upon. He finds her, and sits by her side as she plays again. This time, itís not full of modest talent, but wrenching heartache. She sings about her husband, who she feels hardly notices her and her love for him. The Guy keeps staring. She starts crying. That is when I know for a fact, this film is something else.

I think the overbearing appeal to this film, for those few who have even heard of it, is its take on love. Our characters are not exceptionally beautiful, stereotyped to fit standards, or suddenly able to woo their crushes into bliss. They are two people, brought together by their love of music, and ready to re-discover what love is. From their travels on the Guyís motorcycle, to their hikes along mountainsides and their heartfelt piano sessions, we find solace in their accomplishments, their love for each other, and their hope. The ending, thought bittersweet, was perfect. This film is far from a fairy tale, far from a typical romantic comedy or sing-along musical, and far from any conventional film. When you witness the naturalistic style, the genuine acting, and wonderful music, youíll figure out for yourself that this film really is perfect.

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