Begin Again , the sixth feature film from John Carney, shows the writer-director's seamless evolution from 2007's seminal Once, a more low-budget movie demonstrating the process behind creating an album, to a mature, fully-formed examination of the blood, sweat and tears that go into creating a piece of music. Not to say that Once isn't still one of his best works--it probably always will be--but there's something so much more confident about the way in which Carney executes the story of a songwriter and her fortuitous encounter with a failed music producer.
After coming to New York City with her semi-famous boyfriend, Dave Kohl (Adam Levine, who plays into his douche bag role quite nicely), fresh off recording several songs for a movie soundtrack, Gretta (Knightley) feels somewhat out-of-place as he is given the royal treatment and taken to L.A., leaving her to her own devices for a spell. Luckily, one of her old friends, Steve (James Corden), from England is also a struggling musician who helps keep her entertained while Dave is away. Her friendship with him proves useful after Dave returns from L.A. and informs her that he's taken a shine to one of his record producers.
Instead of letting her book a ticket back to England like she wants to, Steve insists that Gretta come with him to his open mic night on the Lower East Side, whereupon he forces her to sing one of the songs she's written. Recently fired from his own label, Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), a Grammy-award winning producer/alcoholic, just so happens to be in the audience. Hearing something magical in Gretta's rough-hewn performance, Mulligan offers to "sign" her even though he has no label to sign her with. Nonetheless, Gretta seems to have more faith in him than in herself, prompting her to agree to his half-baked idea to record her entire album throughout New York City in an extremely DIY manner.
As Dan and Gretta record the album together, they each begin to have revelations about their personal lives that the other is able to help them through. Unlike the characters in Once, Carney opts ultimately not to give their relationship a romantic slant--which makes it all the more meaningful when we arrive to the conclusion.