Take a Drink: whenever Marketa Irglova is too damn cute
Take a Drink: whenever Glen Hansard plays a sad song
Take a Drink: whenever a drunk dances
Take a Drink: whenever Marketa curses adorably
Do a Shot: whenever someone takes a break from music to go play more music
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
I’m working in Europe now, on the central pedestrian and tourist thoroughfare of my city, and damn if it isn’t clogged 24/7 with street performers, exactly as the stereotypes say. Walking to work consists of running a gauntlet of mediocre guitar players, outthrust hats, and South American flute bands dressed as Native Americans for some damn reason.
There’s no Glen Hansard, though, which is probably fortunate because that talented bastard would always make me late for work. In Once, he stars as a heartbroken Irish street performer looking for his big break who meets a fetching Czech piano player (Marketa Irglova). Their relationship reenergizes them both, and paves the way to create something truly beautiful.
Director John Carney has just returned to this creative well this year with the flashier, star-driven Begin Again, but he forgets in it what made it so refreshing in the first place. The beauty of Once is its simplicity, its rawness, and of course, its music.
Let’s start with that music, as it’s the heart and soul of Once. Hansard has a hell of a voice and a beautiful grasp of simple, striking writing for both music and lyrics. Irglova also has a sweet voice, and her virtuosic piano playing and more sedate but intuitive writing makes for a perfect match. When her playing rises to meet Hansard’s wavering falsetto, it’s hard not to get goosebumps.
Hansard and Irglova’s chemistry goes beyond the music, though. Like their songwriting, their characters’ mix of melancholy and hopefulness is lively and seemingly effortless (it’s no great surprise that they became a couple soon after). Their performances are very natural and understated, which, coupled with Carney’s unshowy handheld aesthetic, deliver a realistic, immersive experience. If you told me this was a documentary, I could believe it.
They made a documentary about me once…
What I particularly enjoyed about Once, though, is how it tells a simple story but still avoids romcom clichés. This could easily have ended in a sprint through an airport, but instead it accomplishes something more real and affecting by not doing that. Instead ,the film builds to an emotional crescendo through its character interactions and music, then ends on the perfect, bittersweet note.
The story is about as thin as it gets, as admirably clichéd as it is. The story seems to have been written around the music instead of the other way around, and sometimes becomes overwhelmed by it.
Once beautifully communicates the joys of playing music, the joys of creating art, the joys of loving… just joy. Once is joy.