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"Once" redefines the Musical

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Earlier this week I had the pleasure of experiencing an enhanced version of what viewers all over the country will soon be exposed to when I went to see a screening of the movie Once, directed by John Carney and starting Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard. This film is a unique and singular treat, and while my experienced was bolstered by extras such as the Q&A with the directors and stars and the live musical performances afterwards, I have no doubt that the movie itself will hold up when viewed on its own.

I admit that my interest in the movie came from no great love of film nor a knowledge or interest of this particular movie, but rather my knowledge of and respect for the film’s male lead, Mr. Glen Hansard. Mr. Hansard best known for his work with the band he fronts, The Frames, of which I am a longtime fan.

In this role, Mr. Hansard plays a character very similar to his own real life persona so its not entirely surprising that he is very convincing as the vacuum cleaner repairman who moonlights as a guitar-slinging busker in Dublin.

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With his big eyes and disintegrating guitar, Glen’s unnamed character is hugely endearing, and reminded me a great deal of Lost’s Charlie Pace- a little hapless, but well meaning and wholeheartedly devoted to music. When he is approached on the street by the unintentionally and thoroughly charming Girl, his life abruptly changes direction as the two of them enter into a passionate and productive musical relationship.

Spoilers after the jump, beware...

The rest of the movie chronicles the pair as they attempt to satisfy each other musically, in a relationship that remains refreshingly pure and entirely focused on their musical compatibility. Viewers looking for passionate romance will probably be disappointed - the passion in this movie is reserved for the music.

Speaking of sweet, Marketa Irglova in the role of Girl re-invents the archetype of the sweet, adorable ingénue. She is entirely captivating and she brings a depth to the character with her brilliant musical performances as well as her subtle acting lends a weight to the importance of the movie. She radiates warmth throughout the movie and her performance scenes are magnificent.

John Carney was clearly beaming with pride at his accomplishment when he answered audience questions this past week in LA, and rightfully so. Shot over a something like 3 weeks in Dublin on a shoestring budget, this movie brings all the sweet appeal and emotional resonance of old fashioned musicals into a modern setting. This of course, was part of Mr. Carney's intent- he wanted to show his adolescent niece that musicals are relevant. Well done, Mr. Carney, you most certainly succeeded- and your movie produced nothing short of a killer soundtrack.

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Anyone with an appreciation of melodic rock music will eat up the songs, and fans of The Frames will recognize Hansard's stylistic trademarks in the song structures. I hope that Marketa finds herself some new fans in the US market, for she richly deserves recognition for her talents as a musician as well as an actress. She performs all of her songs so exquisitely, the movie is worth watching just to see her play.

I highly recommend this movie to anyone who has even the most cursory interest in the artist process or an understanding of the important role that music often plays in our daily lives. Go see it! It's playing at the Arclight!