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The glass may be half empty but it will contain good whiskey. I write film reviews for http://www.scannain.com/ , say hi and we can debate films forever and ever and ever...... Warning this blog may contain more than just film talk.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Film Review - Once (2006)

There are literally thousands of films that have a central romance as their main theme. Indeed a large percentage of Hollywood's output seems to be romantic in hope rather than expectation. The main problem with these films is the lack of belief in the relationship. This is not a problem in Once. Indeed you could compare Once very favourably to one of the best romantic films ever made, Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise/Sunset. They are usually considered together as a whole and for me the reason why they are so good (especially Before Sunset) is the sense of the natural as opposed to the mechanical. These two people meet like people meet, talk like people talk, we sense that we could be either of them. This is a very difficult thing to pull off as most meetings of potential couples in films tend to be an obvious contrived screenwriter's device. So how has a small Irish film that cost less than €150,000 to make manage to do this so well and win an Oscar?

The explanation for this success is the raw emotional honesty of the film. Not for once is there a feeling of being manipulated. Consider the basic story which is simplicity itself. Once is the story of an unnamed guy (Glen Hansard) and girl (Marketa Irglova) who meet in Dublin and are very tentatively drawn together. He is a hoover repair man in his dad's shop by day and a busker on Grafton Street by night, she is a Czech Big Issue and flower seller who watches him play. This premise doesn't begin to cover the various little stories and surprises that are going on in this film. At one point he is shocked to discover that she is a trained pianist. This can be seen as a nod to the fact that the people from Europe who empty our bins in offices and sell flowers on the street are often better educated and qualified than we ourselves are.

There is also a wonderful scene at the girl's flat she shares with her mother and daughter when three european guys walk in and sit down. The girl explains casually that they come in to watch the tv, which is the only one in the building. With that the theme tune to Fair City starts up and the lads start throwing around European accented versions of classic Dublin phraseology like 'whats the story' and talking about how much they love the show. Scenes like this show life in real terms and it is not the only one. It is also little details that Once gets right such as when the batteries die in her cd walkman: she first checks the tv remote for new ones before heading to the shop. This is what is meant by natural and real. One can only imagine that the actors collaborated with writer/director John Carney and that there is some improvisation here from the two leads.

The most fascinating aspect of this film is the fact that it happens to be a musical as well as a romance. In fact most of the story is moved on through the placement of the songs and their lyrical meaning. Both the guy and the girl are just out of relationships and in some ways they are each others muses in so far as their meeting spurs them to finally do things to change their lives. In his case to record a demo and win back his ex-girlfriend, in her case to finally get a piano and reconcile with her partner who comes over from the Czech Republic.

Acting-wise the two leads are very good. Crucially there is serious chemistry between them which is vital for a film of this type. There are some fine small supporting roles but really it is all about the two protagonists. The film also comes in at a brisk hour and a half so doesn't outstay its welcome. Without saying too much to give away the ending the film does have the courage of its convictions and Carney does not give us a Hollywood ending, as such. Overall, it is a small film with a big heart and a beautiful flow. One of Ireland's most impressive cinematic success stories of recent years.


  1. Hey Jason, love the blog. Great reviews :)


  2. I rented this movie years ago, and I fell in love with it. As an American, the only Ireland I've seen is the country, with the fake Hollywoodized Irish accents that you discover are nothing even remotely close to an actual accent of any Irish person (at least that I know of). This is a great review.

  3. Cheers,

    Many thanks for the comments. I am a big fan of this film. Much better than the usual boy meets girl tale.

  4. Thank you for your review and blog. I just would like to stress that this film is not only an honest and emotional portrayal of a modern day romance, but also is very much about the music industry and the creative angst involved in the process of producing art. In addition to a romance and modern day musical, it has also been described by one critic, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune as "It may well be the best music film of our generation."

    Also, credit should also be given in the way in which the sheer quality of the songs are placed into the film so effortlessly, intertwined with the theme of love (or rather the script has been developed around the songs). The film becomes a tribute to the modern day musical and how music can rescue ones soul and how one can find love in unusual places; in all its different manifiestations.

    The lives of the very much deglamourised Dublin people very much find refuge in music, as has been a tradition in Ireland's history. I would highly recommend this film as an innovative piece of musical cinema, demonstrating how naturalism, realism as well as romantism can coexist in the modern day.