R (for language, but see below)
* * * *
For those expecting a musical, or a romance film, or a love story musical, this isn’t the film you’re looking to see, but it should be. While Once is in a generic sense a musical film, it is about music, it is not the sentimental use of music to portray emotions. Made without a budget (one scene uses a well timed car’s headlights ingeniously), non-actors, and in a cinema-verite style (though not Dogme 95, don't worry), this is in some ways as faraway from the classic Hollywood singing, dancing, swelling ,musical as you can get.
Hollywood, especially in its recent adaptations of musicals, should learn something from Once. It doesn’t matter how flashy, or big it is. All that matters is 1) it has a large heart and 2) the music is good. This film is one of the most good natured and loving films I’ve seen in a long, long time. While it gets its R rating from its use of the ‘f’ word, it, nor any other words ,are mean spirited in anyway. Even a mugging scene ends with understanding, and a hug. In this way, Once is in the tradition of the great musicals. It has the romantic yearnings of those old time musicals, and its wide eyed view of possibilities available in the world, specifically in making music.
The music is not used to tell story, or convey emotion, so much as music is central to this film. And the film is gorgeously simple. A vacuum cleaner repairman/ street musician, forms a friendship with a Czech immigrant and flower saleswoman, and enrich each others’ lives through their musical talents. While all other musicals are more concerned with the romantic notion of “possibility” and “love” this film heavily deals with the ambiguities inherent in both. It’ s Brief Encounter (which, if you haven’t seen, see that too) made by people who grew up watching “The Office.”
For those who may not like the ambiguity, or maybe have difficulty understanding some of the Irish accents, or the Czech/Irish accents, it is kinda hard at times, the music is universal. Glen Hansard, of the Frames, with Marketa Irglova, the two leads in the picture (so when they sing these songs, it really shows they have meaning), have crafted one of the all-time great film soundtracks, the best I can think of since Aimee Mann (who’s mentioned in the film)’s for Magnolia. The music is so well-crafted, and sublime that no translation is needed. The Frames weren’t on my musical radar, but the first thing I did after seeing this film was buy the soundtrack.