Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova
Director: John Carney
Audio: Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 86 Minutes
Release Date: December 18, 2007
“I have to go now.”
Every year seems to have a breakout independent film sensation. For 2007, that film is unquestionably Once, but the film is so much more than one that just deserves a certain labeling. It is a small, simple little film that leaves an impact that can’t be put into words. The film is appropriately titled, because something like this doesn’t come around often…it is that special.
Writer/director John Carney has crafted what could very be the first art house musical, but truth be told what Carney has made is one of the most engaging and magical musicals to ever hit the screen. It is perhaps the very first movie musical grounded completely in a contemporary setting with music numbers that feels more authentic than stagy.
The story is simple but extremely memorable every step of the way. We meet a Dublin street musician (Glen Hansard), whose music attracts the attention of Czech woman (Marketa Irglova) selling flowers on the same street. Within minutes of meeting each other the two realize a mutual love for music, the woman herself is a pianist. Little do they know that this chance meeting will lead to an unforgettable bond from which true musical magic will emerge.
Initially, he asks her to help him record an album of songs before heading off to London. After a brief session in a nearby music store, he realizes not only does she posses amazing piano skills, but she has quite an angelic voice as well. She agrees to it, not only in helping out on the songs, but she turns out to be one hell of a producer.
In between the songs, the guy and the girl (as the story refers to them) discover more surprising things about each other. The heartbreak displayed in his songs is the result of a bad break up where his ex dumped him and moved to London. He has plans to rekindle that relationship when completing the album and heading over there, but this chance meeting may have him changing those plans.
And she surprises him too. It turns out that she is married and has a child. When discovering this, he is quite devastated as it clearly blocks the possibility of a relationship, which we can see would be nothing short of a perfect one. But he remains focused on recording the music he set out to make, and she remains by his side as he completes it.
This is very much the little film that could…and did. When you take into account that the film was made on a shoestring budget of $150,000 and shot in 17 days, you realize that a piece of cinematic magic can be produced no matter what length of production is experienced. Once has to be one of the most amazingly executed productions I’ve ever heard of, considering how truly outstanding the final product turned out.
What’s even more amazing is the fact that a story like this, which in description would probably seem corny, is handled so greatly by writer/director Carney. All of it feels real right down to the way in which the characters talk, none of it feels phony like a run of the mill love story. And through the HD video camerawork, Once ultimately feels like a slice of real life caught on film.
And I won’t even spoil the truly wonderful music that Once provides. I will only say that it’s some of the most beautiful music you will ever hear in a single film. Hansard (who was in The Commitments and is lead singer for the Irish band The Frames) and Irglova do manage to create many melodies that will touch your heart instantly. I downloaded the entire soundtrack on iTunes right after watching the movie, which should tell you how much the music struck me.
To put it simply, Once is a movie experience you need to see. What you need to do after seeing it is tell everyone you know about it. This is one of those rare, special films that deserves to be seen by just about everyone in the world. It truly is a one of a kind film experience.
This was never intended as a technically sharp film, and it doesn’t need to be. So it goes without saying that this Fox release won’t score any high points in the video department, but it still manages to be quite an exceptional looking disc. The anamorphic picture does capture the Dublin setting quite beautifully, both in the streets and the countryside.
This is the first release in a long time to only feature a 2.0 mix, but don’t let that fool you, as the music still sounds nothing short of amazing in this presentation. The music bits are the main attraction here, sound-wise. Dialogue also sounds clear and terrific.
You’ll want to see what all went into the making of the film after watching it, and this Fox release has a good enough level of extra material to fulfill that demand. Included are two commentary tracks, one a regular and the other a musical commentary, with writer/director John Carney and actors/musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Also featured are two featurettes, “Making a Modern Day Musical” and “More Guy, More Girl”, a webisode titled “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy”, and several trailers for additional Fox releases.
The disc also includes a free download for the film’s song “Falling Slowly”.
Once is as personal, moving, honest and beautiful as a single film could ever hope to be. It is so far from anything that you’ve ever seen, be it love story or musical. This one marries the two with magnificent results. Truly, a Once in a lifetime kind of movie!