The latest aggressively beguiling musical dramedy from Irish director John Carney (Once) could be subtitled “Be charmed…or die!” From scene one, the corniness is off the charts: Sad, struggling musician Greta (Keira Knightley), reeling from a recent breakup, reluctantly takes to the stage at a downtown Manhattan open mike to sing a song of subways and solitude. Barely anyone pays attention except for Dan (Mark Ruffalo), who, we discover in the first of several Pulp Fiction–lite flashbacks, is an indie music mogul on the downward spiral in business and in life. He hears something special in Greta’s warblings and, with a ragtag group of musicians, they head out into the Big Apple, using the rowdy sounds of the city as accompaniment to their soul-searching ballads.
Each member of the cast is game, with Knightley doing some pleasant trilling, and all the NYC locales—from the Central Park fountain to Washington Square’s arch—are colorful. (Tough-talking street urchins turned angelic backup vocalists? Adorbs to the nth degree!) As with Once, Carney does his best to upend clichés in the central relationship, which doesn’t play out as you might expect. Yet false moments far outweigh the genuine ones, be it smarmy Dan’s indisputable genius (he’s such a stubble-sporting rebel, he refuses to wear suits) or the bogus anticorporate finale that leaves an especially slick aftertaste.
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