Friday, May 11, 2007


dir. John Carney

Czechin' out an Irishman.

May 11, 2007 - 35mm

Without a doubt the “nicest” movie to come out this year, John Carney’s sweet little romance, Once, plays nice from start to finish. The movie opens with a street musician (our hero!) frustratingly playing to an audience of one, some drunk guy. This drunken fellow, in turn, snatches our hero’s guitar case and the pocket change that comes with it. The hero makes chase and catches the thief, who amicably hands over the case. The street music saint, then, feeling badly for the sorry sod, hands him some pocket change. What a gentleman. Sigh.

One of last year’s “nicest” movies, The Pursuit of Happyness, found Will Smith’s heroic lead constantly chasing after thieves and dreams. That movie is nice. It has the word “Happy” in the title, but the hero in that movie is not as nice as Once’s hero. He redefines nice. The Pursuit of Happyness is not a bad movie, neither is Once. These movies are gooey, gooey gumdrops, well acted, well shot, cute and teetering on the ledge of obscene narrative contrivance, every once and a while getting a toe or foot wet.

Our nameless hero, played by real life musician Glen Hansard, writes and performs most of the songs in Once, and there are a lot of them. Almost each and every one is bad, and I’m certain we’ll see at least one, if not two nominated for an Academy Award come year’s end. In a pursuit of sappyness, Hansard’s singing falls in the category of other bad bands like Coldplay, Keane and The Dave Matthews Band. Whatever strength or weakness the lyrics may have become irrelevant as the singer starts groaning and hollering gibberish with a pained look of exasperation that translates:

“Oh man, I’m so sad and frustrated, grrrrr... I could snap at any second… but my voice is getting high, because I’m nice… I’m so nice… baby, I’m sad… I’m not growling like this because I’m a mean guy… I’m a good guy… but I’m dark… and angry… but I love you… what a mystery I am… so tortured… what love have I lost… nice.”

Even though the music is bad, it does not affect the believability of the characters' satisfaction with the tunes. It’s easy to believe these characters love these songs. They’re so nice.

Once looks a lot better than it sounds. It’s a homemade movie, seemingly shot guerilla-style, with handheld long-takes that settle into the oft-exchanged gazes of the potential lovers, hero and heroine. Marketa Irglova plays the nameless heroine, and her songs are better, a lot better, than Mr. Hansard’s. It’s a pity we get so few of those. They make an exceptionally handsome couple, their chemistry oozing off the screen. There is flirting nearly the entire movie, the pair relishing every moment their deep gaze is matched by some brief physical connection, be it a piggyback ride or touch on the shoulder. The flirty excess plays similarly to the atmospheric brilliance of Before Sunset. Where Sunset shines is the deconstruction of the two no-longer-young leads, exposing them as often hypocritical, mean and petty, and yet the chemistry and romance is extraordinarily palatable. Once opts strongly against any character flaw whatsoever with the leads or peripheral characters, though I find one. They’re too nice.

The niceness leads to a surprisingly satisfying ending that is decidedly not simple or stupid. For all of the niceties in the movie, remember, “nice” is not always bad, that’s why it’s called “nice.” Nice meaning admirably small, taut, short, sweet, silly, a little daft and sometimes boring.

And now, for a boring song from the movie:


Kalen Egan said...

Oh, Jeff GP, I think you're a gooey, gooey gumdrop.

Jeff Larson said...

While you were watching this crap, I was watching Point Blank with one Mr. John Boorman in attendance. Queer. I'm seriously dissapointed in you. (You cuddly wuddly teddy bear).