Once Movie Review
Unlike Tommy or The Wall, the cinematic repercussions of Hansard's songs were never foretold in any of the Frames albums; all the songs involved were written during Carney's screenwriting process. Carney believes that three-minute pop songs can equally weigh with ten pages of dialogue and uses many of Hansard and his co-star Marketa Irglova's songs to relate emotional weight, an easy way out for exposition. Yet, the exposition is still there, and the songs played are melodramatic enough to make a VH-1 countdown show. Yes, yes, but Carney's idea is still sound.
Hansard and Irglova meet one night as he shrieks out some Coldplay knock-off and she sells flowers on her way home to see her mother and her child. She asks why he doesn't sing his song during the daytime; he replies that the public just wants popular songs. Soon, she is getting her vacuum repaired by him as he gives her songs he's written about his ex-girlfriend, hoping she can flesh them out. Their romance, initially botched by his awkward offer to bed her, simmers under a dull flame as they start recruiting band members to help with a weekend studio session before he heads back to London and she reunites with her estranged husband. Shocker: The producer on their sessions falls in love with the songs and thinks they have a real chance of selling.
The trajectory is just that: Hansard and Irglova's songs will sell like a hijacked box of iPhones and the pair will meet again. The against-all-odds attitude this otherwise charming experiment gives off couldn't be less bogus if James Blunt sat on a stage in front of an empty bar saying "this one's for the lady in the back." Far be it for me to bemoan any film that pokes at the struggles of an up-and-coming singer/songwriter, but we're not talking about Nick Drake or Jeff Buckley here. We're talking Chris Martin with a caterwauling howl instead of a lilting coo.
What sticks and ultimately makes the film memorable is the subtle ebb-and-flow of the relationship and the unlikely capturing of songwriting in action. The 35mm work keeps a shy eye toward the pair with only a couple of rather odd but effective crane shots used to punctuate the action. Hansard and Irglova, non-actors for the most part, are appealingly natural and are mesmerizing when in the throws of the song. Effectively, Carney's idea realizes an interesting and believable scenario but imagines it at the whim of lukewarm music-business politics. Unlike its music, Once seems smitten with the scent of discovery and uses it to further invigorate a tired trick.
Say, you wanna hear some "Stairway?"