Once is the David Gray or James Blunt of movie musicals, and amazingly enough, that’s not a bad thing. Scoring his delicate love story to the tunes of its central singer-songwriter couple, John Carney doesn’t reinvent the musical genre so much as ground it in grimy, believable indie-ness, with his film’s songs realistically nestled into his Dublin-set tale of a thirtysomething street performer and vacuum cleaner repairman known only as Guy (Glen Hansard) and a Czech Republic immigrant, single mother and rose-seller known only as Girl (Markéta Irglová). Meeting after one of his late-night performances, the two strike up an intimate friendship rooted in their shared on-the-fringe situations and musicianship dreams, the latter eventually leading to tentative collaboration. Carney’s narrative is so thin that it feels like it might blow away (or be blown in a contrived direction) at any moment. And yet his handheld verité direction results in subtly well-staged scenes and images that visually reflect his protagonists’ ever-shifting relations to each other. Once‘s musical numbers have a similar understated grace—naturally emanating from plot circumstances, and reflecting the current emotions of both characters—and benefit from real-world singer-songwriters Hansard and Irglová‘s catchy, heartfelt songs, which exude a touching blend of miserable heartache and cautious optimism. In keeping with the film’s sincerity, Carney doesn’t shy away from the desperation lurking beneath his tale’s optimism, keeping in sharp focus how intractable everyday obstacles can get in the way of love and hope. This pragmatism also infuses Guy and Girl’s romance, which is prevented from taking flight into Hollywood fantasy by the palpable threat of potential failure and destitution that hovers over their heads, as well as by a bittersweet sense of the sacrifices necessary to achieve happiness. At heart an aesthetically loose, scraggly long-form music video collage, Once may not be substantial, but it recognizes the beauty in imperfection and exudes the earnest, sappy poignancy of a memorable indie-rock ballad.
- Fox Searchlight Pictures
- 85 min
- John Carney
- John Carney
- Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: