The Tramp’s latest edition of “films you might overlook on streaming services but really they are worth a look honest” features Keira Knightley, a lot. Non-fans turn away now.
Keira Knightley is an actress who divides the reviewers who regularly contribute to MostlyFilm. Some find her fresh faced and delightful. Others, annoying enough that just her presence in a film is enough to recommend that it should never be seen. Personally I think Keira has done a marvellous job of learning her craft and growing up on screen. She manages to be both model beautiful and somehow approachable, with an element of goof ball and self-deprecation that I always felt served Katherine Hepburn rather well – another actress who seems to divide audiences. So when I was searching through the list of rom-coms that the UK’s two major streaming services (Amazon and Netflix) offered me I decided to try a trio of Keira films that never, so far as I am aware, made even a grasshopper-kicking-your-car-like dent on the UKs cinema screens. What I discovered is that all 3 are really rather lovely and if, like me, you are a sucker for a good rom-com and don’t mind Keira, make for really quite enjoyable viewing.
If the world was ending what would you do? Or rather, who would you look to spend the last days of your time on Earth with? It doesn’t sound like the most auspicious pitch for a romantic film but it does manage to pull it off. Even with the laughably impossible pairing of middle aged Steve Carell (yes the chap who played the 40 year old virgin) and dream boat gorgeous, giving that pixie dream girl thing a go but failing because she’s a Brit and looks like a model, twenty-something Keira Knightley. And it pulls it off because both leads are likeable and trying their damndest to make the script and their pairing work.
Steve Carell plays Dodge, a man for whom the end of the world has merely emphasised quite how unexceptional and disappointing his life has been. Knightley plays Penny, his upstairs neighbour for whom life may be more dramatic, but is it in any way fulfilling? They join forces on a quest to get to the people they wish to be with on the day when the world ends and over the course of that journey they bond and learn a little about themselves and each other. There’s nothing new or special here, except of course the ending is not a beginning, it really is an ending for this is the end of the world.
It’s clear why this failed to set cinema screens alight. The romantic pairing of these two actors doesn’t make you think Bogart and Bacall, or even Astaire and Hepburn (Audrey that is), more like – if your Dad came home one day with a really cool super-model who seemed to think he too was cool despite the fact that he was the sort of chap who always wore a vest under his shirt, even if it was 48° outside. But to be fair to the film it understands this, plays upon it and uses it to make this unlikely pairing come together. Perhaps if Carell were someone like Coogan, who has shown in the Trip that he can pull off not-cool-Dad-sexy, it would have had more of an edge. As it is it has no edge but it is gently, relentlessly nice – which is no bad thing at all.
So Keira Knightley is a talented song writer musician. She had a boyfriend, Adam Levine, who was just like her and they wrote songs together. Then his habit of singing the songs and looking gorgeous meant that he got famous, at which point he left her behind. Which would suck for anyone, but it’s hard to escape an ex-famous enough to feature on billboards and the radio. So now she mopes about New York, sharing booze and anecdotes with her best mate James Corden and trying to pretend that she isn’t still hung up on Levine. And then into her life walks Mark Ruffalo; a scruffy once-successful, now-mess of a music producer who has built it all and lost it all – in life and work. Of course when he truly loses it all is the moment that he decides to fight back and he thinks that the musician to help him do that with is Keira. And so this unlikely duo traverse their broken hearts and broken lives using music and the City that they live in – gradually edging towards healing, but are they also falling in love?
If that sounds awful, well it isn’t, it’s charming. It was written and directed by the chap who directed Once, a rather successful version of the same story set in Dublin rather than New York and minus any stars at all. Once was a huge success, in contrast Begin Again was not, which is a shame because as rom’s with a gentle line of com and a lot of sappy songs go it’s pretty great. It benefits, just as Once did, in using the City as a character and in using the music to let the characters emotional lives burst forth. However, where in Once the characters were believably down, if not out, struggling to make their way in the world, in Begin Again the star’s involved are far too well known and glamorous to be anything other than actors in a tale that can end in the way that they started out imagining or not that at all but far more fulfilling.
I won’t ruin the story by telling you more, but I will say that, like Once, the characters that pepper their lives are in many ways more fun than the leads. Levine is surprisingly good here, effectively playing a version of himself, but it is Cee-Lo Green that steals the show, with Corden snapping at his heels.
With a trailer that promised me little more than Ruffalo’s puppy dog eyes and Knightley singing I can’t say that I expected much from Begin Again. Perhaps that is why I found myself won over by its charms; they were far more assuming than those found in Once but no less winning for all that.
For me this was one of those films that you saw the trailer for, wanted to see and then wondered why it never made it to the cinema. Bummer. And then it pops up, without ceremony, on your streaming service and you think HURRAH! But in the back of your mind is the worry that if it never made it to the cinema perhaps the trailer made a promise that the film did not keep and this is going to be bad…
Fortunately it isn’t bad, it’s great fun. If the two films noted above offered Keira the chance to play against type this is a film that cunningly offers her the chance to just be herself but herself if she was really a bit of a loser. Hard to imagine?
Say When asks Keira to play Megan, a late twenties or early thirties graduate with a bucketful of wasted potential because she just can’t face growing up. When life starts to get serious she decides to run away from it, escaping to the home of a teen girl whose biggest dilemmas are what to wear to prom and if she can buy booze without an ID card. And so Megan ends up staying indefinitely with the teen that she rather wishes she herself were and said teen’s handsome father – played by Sam Rockwell – trying to stop life catching up with her; an endeavour so hopeless that we know it will fail and that when it does Rockwell is likely to loom large as part of a future that isn’t nearly as bad as she expects.
There is romance here, but mostly this is a film about the pressures on girls to grow up, be responsible and be in a relationship. It explores friendship, control – or rather the lack of it outside of the education system – and how life moves on even if we don’t. It won’t win any feminist credentials, but it is chock full of great female characters and is fantastic fun to watch. Curious? If the answer after reading the above is yes then I say hop to Amazon and watch it now. Plus, Rockwell is really hot in this.