Here we go; the last musical I have left on the list, according to the genre index in the back of the Book. Once is an interesting little quirk of a film, one unlike almost any other purported musical I think I’ve seen (with the half-exception of Dancer in the Dark). Besides being very much a modern film, as opposed to most musicals that seem to be made in and for an era gone by, Once is probably the closest a musical film has come to being neorealistic. Even the numbers in Lars von Trier’s musical were of a heightened reality; here, they all take place firmly in the real world, where the film is set and shot in.
The film is set in Dublin, and deals with two main characters, who go without names through the whole film. The guy is a vacuum repairman by day, and street busker by night, singing original stuff he’s written since, by his words, nobody wants to hear anything but familiar songs in the daytime. The girl is a Czech immigrant who walks the street selling flowers, who meets the guy when she listens to some of his street singing and ends up enjoying it. She is a musician as well, and the two strike up a harmonious relationship through their shared love of music, which ends up benefiting them both by the end. Now, even though this is classified as a musical, that’s not really what the film feels like. While most musicals have the characters break out spontaneously into song and dance numbers that almost intentionally break the immersion factor in a film, here the two main characters are songwriters, and thus the songs fit into the narrative as they write, play, and record songs together. The resulting film is sort of a mash-up between a concert film like Gimme Shelter and a hyper-realist docu-drama, and I was surprised at how much it worked, mostly because of the huge heart the film had in regards to its two main characters. In that regard, the film is very much a musical at heart; nothing really bad happens to anyone, and everyone ends up better off at the end. Oddly enough, the film is still worth watching, even despite this potential hitch. The accents take a little getting used to, but just like the film does, it grows on you as it goes on. Oh, and as for the songs themselves, they were actually very well done, even being written by the film’s two main stars, who even won an Academy Award for one of them.
Even though I found a lot to enjoy about this one, and would recommend it to a pretty wide audience, I was left somewhat wondering what the point of the film was. I went into it thinking it would be a much more reality-based love story, but after I thought about it a little, I realized how off-base this assumption ultimately was. I wouldn’t even say that this is a love story, or a romance film. It’s a film about the small encounters with the supposedly inconsequential people in our lives that ultimately prove to be the most beneficial and impactful on who we are. This is such a warm film that I’d feel a little uncomfortable around people that have watched it and didn’t have some form of smile on their face after it was over. If that sounds like the kind of film you need at some point, put this on your docket.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10