July 12, 2007

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Once (R)
Two people form an intense friendship over a love of music in Once, a sweet folk-rock musical.

I know what youíre thinking ó Godspell or something, maybe Hair. This is the opposite of that. The songs are pleasant singer-songwriter-type stuff (as one character describes them) and arenít broken into a la ďAge of Aquarius.Ē The male lead (Glen Hansard) is a busker, singing soulful covers of songs during the day and pouring all his emotion into his own songs at night. During one of these songs a fellow street worker (not like that) hears his music and strikes up an awkward friendship. She (Marketa Irglova) pesters him into a second meeting when she asks him to fix her vacuum cleaner (which he does for real money in his fatherís shop). Heís heart-broken, he tells her, about a girl who now lives in London and is the subject of all his rich, mournful songs. She tells him about the dead father who taught her how to play piano (which she does, beautifully, during what becomes their first jam session). He makes one extremely lame pass at her, but luckily that doesnít stop her from coming back, listening to more of his music. She introduces him to her young daughter, he gives her one of his songs and asks her to write the lyrics. They quickly become entangled in each otherís lives.

The movie culminates in his decision to go to London to win back his girlfriend and, more importantly, really make a stab at being a musician. To help him on his way, he decides to record a demo, asking his new friend if she would accompany him. They convince another street band to lend some backing help and together produce an album that is as musically intense as the session is emotionally intense.

Nothing happens the way you expect it to in this movie, not even the music. It is not traditional musical music at all ó it is rather Crowded House-y, but rawer and Irish instead of New Zealander. The songs sound convincing for what they are supposed to be ó the first big effort of a musician with talent but no professional experience.

The boy and girl (they arenít given names) arenít what you expect either. They clearly like each other; their chemistry is better than just about any boy-girl, semi-romantic chemistry on film. But they hold themselves back on occasion only to reveal deep emotions later, all in the kind of random way that real people do with new friends. Once is delightful in its simplicity and in how completely unlike anything else in theaters it is. B

Rated R for language. Written and directed by John Carney, Once is an hour and 28 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film is playing in the Boston area and is scheduled to begin a run at Wilton Town Hall Theatre on Friday, July 13.