Monday, March 31, 2008


Once won an Oscar for Best Original Song. That's fitting, since the film is more about the music than the story. In fact, it might be fitting to consider Once a visual LP.

Once introduces Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, though their character names are listed as simply "Guy" and "Girl," and it's really tempting to read this movie as their autobiography. That's not entirely wrong, as Irglová, a Czech immigrant, plays a Czech immigrant. And Hansard, who got his start as a street musician in Dublin, plays a street musician in Dublin. And the two are responsible for almost every song in the film.

So maybe it's not entirely inappropriate to see this movie as a bit of a joint autobiography. But there's another temptation in this film: As it's a semi-autobiography about Guy and Girl--a Guy and Girl who are dating in real life--it's very tempting to see this as a prototypical love story. It's not. Love has its place in the story, but it's not a love story. It's all about the music. (In fact, Hansard and Irglová didn't start dating until after Once started filming.)

If the story is about the music, it's only appropriate to ask: How's the music? It's quite good. The Oscar-winning "Falling Slowly" is the best of the bunch, but there's not a dud to be found here. The sound isn't all that dissimilar to Dashboard Confessional, if you just replace the adolescent whine with Irish-lilted adult poignancy. The focus is on the music's authenticity, as evidenced by Hansard's absurdly beat-up acoustic guitar. The authenticity comes through, though. Hansard and Irglová seem like two people who genuinely like making music, and who genuinely like each other.

The low-budget authenticity is not just Hansard's guitar; the entire film cost only $150,000 to make, so you can feel good about shelling money out for it in a way that you might not feel good about paying to see, say, Shrek the Third (which cost $160 million to make, or about one thousand times as much as Once). In the end, your $4-5 rental will get you an hour and a half worth of good music made by endearing people, and that's worth about a 9 on the 22 scale.


Your Racist Friend said...

Dashboard Confessional? Ecccchhh. I didn't think the music was anywhere near THAT saccharine.

Dr. Worm said...

Ah, I knew that line would get me into trouble with Dashboard-despisers. But even if you liked the music in Once but don't like Dashboard, you have to admit a similarity. Both feature male vocalists given to quiet moments broken by crescendos, both feature an acoustic minimalism driven by raw emotion rather than production values. There's a vocal difference, as I think Hansard sounds less whiney than Dashboard's Carrabba. And there's a lyrical difference, as Dashboard is a bit more straightforward teen angsty, whereas the lyrics in Once are more subtle and multi-layered.

Still, I maintain that the comparison is valid. They differ in quality, perhaps, but not in type.

Wicked Little Critta said...

DW, could you give me a better picture of your opinion of the movie?

Dr. Worm said...

Sure thing, WLC. Sorry if I didn't do that effectively enough in the review.

Essentially, it gave me a warm feeling. I really liked the people involved--especially Hansard's father--and the whole experience was just really one of watching a couple of likable people do something they loved doing. That has its merit. But the movie didn't really move me in any particular way--I'm not really a different person for having seen it--so it's not particularly transcendent. It's just enjoyable. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Wicked Little Critta said...

Good review, it's easy to be brief with such a minimalist movie. I just wasn't sure if the fact that you didn't put in a strong opinion was because you neglected to add it, or just didn't have one.