Monday, July 02, 2007
It's tough to film a musical that really connects with an audience. It's a challenge for any genre of film, but more so with musicals, most likely because musicals are, for the most part, devoid of realism. I can't think of anytime in recent memory when, while watching a musical movie, I've emotionally identified with any character, because they're obviously not based in reality. They can be technically brilliant but lacking any personal touch ("Chicago"). They can be fantastically over the top real-life cartoon ("Moulin Rouge"). But they're often fleeting.
This was my mindset until I saw "Once." A modern-day musical shot on the streets of Dublin, it's the best movie I've seen in ages. It's a pretty simple story: an Irish street musician meets a piano-playing single mom, and they make a record. But as with all great art, the brilliance is in the details. Every line, every scene is just perfectly real. It's a visceral experience watching the ups and downs of these two characters. Many of the reviews have remarked that the films feels almost like a documentary, which is probably due to the fact that the two leads (Glen Hansard of The Frames, and Marketa Irglova) are in fact musicians, not actors. The doc-feel is furthered by the directing of John Carney, who uses a lot of hand-held shots and long takes, as well as long-range lenses to showcase the two leads in amongst the foot traffic of Dublin. At the risk of sounding like Russell Hammond, everything is this movie is just real, man, real.
The most amazing aspect of the film is that it was made for $150,000 dollars, an astonishing figure when you take into account that most of that must have gone to the audio mix in post-production, so the actual shooting of the film must have been done on a shoestring. Consider the fact that Chris Columbus spent $40 million to throw together a God-awful adaptation of "Rent" and it's a true reminder that you can't put a price tag on creativity.
Granted, I may not be completely objective in my opinion of "Once", as it contains several traps that I'm a sucker for - the scenics of Ireland are picturesque, I've been a fan of The Frames for some time, and it features great songs being sung by a pretty girl. But the reviews have been ridiculously overwhelming so I'm not the only one charmed by it. I can't recommend it enough.