Once Made in: Ireland Language: English Director: John Carney Starring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, Bill Hodnett, Danuse Ktrestova, Marcella Plunkett Year: 2006
Synopsis: In Dublin, Ireland, a struggling, unnamed guitarist (credited only as "The Guy," played by Glen Hansard), works most of the day assisting his father (Bill Hodnett), who owns a small vacuum cleaner repair shop. While strumming away on the street one evening, he meets a Girl (Markéta Irglová) who becomes fascinated by his music.
Incidentally, the Girl needs to have her vacuum cleaner fixed. She's also a Czech immigrant who works odd jobs while trying to support her mother (Danuse Ktrestova) and daughter. The Guy becomes more interested in her when he learns that she, too, has a passion for music and is a gifted pianist.
As they discuss music, they also share stories of previous loves. The Guy is still getting over a difficult breakup with his ex (Marcella Plunkett), which he deals with through song-writing. When he comes across an opportunity to score a recording contract in London, the Guy and the Girl collaborate on recording a few songs. And along the way, they come to terms with their mutual attraction and companionship as they try to overcome their respective life challenges.
The Good: Once has an indie, almost documentary-like feel to it in terms of camerawork. All of that creates a very "independent film look," which works given the subject matter.
Glen Hansard (from the rock group The Frames) and Markéta Irglová are very believable as struggling artists, and their music is both entertaining and touching. The rest of the cast is solid as well.
The down-to-earth vibe of the movie also makes you feel as though you're actually in Dublin, Ireland, and even though it's just a story, there's a sense of unrehearsed authenticity in all the scenes. We certainly root for the two main characters, and it's great how the film stays focused on their struggle without forcing some kind of social/political commentary on us.
The bittersweet ending is very realistic, and there's a maturity about the way in which it's presented. Director John Carney is far from cynical, but his conclusion is very true to life.
The Bad: This is not a major complaint, but sometimes it's hard to ascertain just how badly the Guy and Girl are struggling. On the one hand, they seem to be almost dirt poor. Then, on a few occasions, we see them paying for some rather expensive stuff (recording sessions, plane tickets, a piano) without any serious financial consequences.
Who would like this movie: Once is for you if you love song writing, music, and know what it's like to be a struggling artist. There's lots of singing, guitar, and piano, too, so much so that the film can almost be classified as a musical.
You'll also like Once if you're into foreign films and low-budget independent films. It does a complete and satisfying job telling the viewer about the possibilities of realizing dreams while still knowing full well that the world isn't always fair.