85 Min. | Drama – Music – Romance | December 2006
IMDB Rating: 7.9
Director: John Carney
Staring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, Hugh Walsh
Once Review: Once is about a young Irish busker with a torn guitar and a raft of achingly felt songs about a girlfriend he lost the year before. He works in Dublin at his dad’s Hoover Repair Centre. One day as he’s playing on the street a Czech woman who sells roses and cleans houses comes up and starts to talk to him. She’s somewhat cool but she’s also disarmingly honest. The dialogue seems understated, offhand, but the words seem to come from the heart. She plays the piano and they get together to make music. Both are suffering from love affairs that went wrong. He longs for her but she keeps her distance. The simplicity of the acting makes the characters seem real, like everything else in Once. It doesn’t try too hard. It trusts its material, and it works.
The recording session they wangle with a group of other buskers (two guitarists and a youthful drummer) is a metaphor for this whole Once. These people know nothing about recording, but they’ve got good material and the initially skeptical engineer winds up acknowledging that they’ve made a beautiful thing. Once’s transitions are a little awkward sometimes and its images aren’t fancy, but the story moves you without having any sentimental payoffs. Kitchen sink film-making, it works if you believe in what you’re doing. And have something to work with. The core of Once is the music. It’s what they have to work with. The studio recording session has the good feel of things coming together, it’s so strong and uncalculated-feeling, it makes the studio scene in Craig Brewer’s Hustle and Flow look self-conscious. In Once the sound of the music speaks without special need for dialogue or close-ups.
The real love story of Once is the love of musicians playing together. Few movies perhaps have captured any better that warmth and pleasure of making music with others. People have said this is a musical. If so, it redefines the musical as some American musicals have done recently, especially Spring Awakening and Passing Strange. What makes the idea fly is that it’s as if the young man and the young woman can’t express what they feel for each other, and the only way they can get their emotions across is to burst into song. But the songs are their songs, not some composer’s. It’s all perfectly organic. Perfection, it turns out, doesn’t have to be perfect.