A St. Patty’s Day Watching Ebert: Once (Carney, 2007)

This is the next in a series of reviews of films Roger Ebert has given four stars to between the years of 1967 and 2007, inspired by his book, Roger Ebert’s Four Star Reviews.

Once is not just one of the best musicals I’ve ever seen (and it’s not like any musical I’ve ever seen either), it’s also one of the best romances I’ve ever seen. It might be hyperbole to state this a mere two years after I’ve seen it, but I doubt it. I’ve seen it several times since the first time I saw it and was moved, and it moves me more and more each time. A few of these musical numbers would make my list of the best movie scenes of this decade. Most gratifying of all, the film doesn’t compromise. It concludes the way real life concludes, which is neither fantastical nor unjustifiably depressing. It’s one of a very small number of perfect films that have been released in my lifetime, and since it’s Irish, it’s a perfect St. Patrick’s Day gem.

The Guy (Glen Hansard, lead singer of the Irish band The Frames) repairs Hoovers at his dad’s vacuum cleaner repair shop and plays his guitar as a street performer in his spare time. He encounters The Girl (Marketa Irglova) on the street who loves his song, and mentions she plays the piano. He goes to listen to her play in a piano shop, and she accompanies him on one of his songs. We watch them fall in love– it’s never expressed, but it’s clear enough, and it’s one of the most magical film scenes I’ve ever seen in my life. There are complications, as there always are in real life. He’s recently separated from his first love. She’s got a child and is technically married, even though the father isn’t around that much. Despite these complications, they are great at making music together, and decide to pitch in together and make a demo. Will their love prevail? Will everything emerge as perfectly as their music?

First of all, the performances by these musicians who don’t act are better and realer than most performances by the most skilled of actors. The Guy? We fall for him five minutes after we meet him. The Girl? When we see her with him, we love them together the second they’re on screen together. This is the type of chemistry you can’t train. Once they sing together, it’s even more solidified in our minds. The performances are naturalistic, and set the tone in a real world, which offsets all the “musical numbers” perfectly. It’s important also to clarify that while this film is often described as a “musical,” none of them are characters singing explicitly about their emotions. This is a film about musicians who sing songs that reflect their emotions in subtle, moving ways. Nothing is spelled out and the audience is never patronized.

And I haven’t discussed the music, which is all beautiful. And I haven’t discussed the direction by John Carney, which is restrained and deals with what could have easily become sentimental and fantastical in a realistic way, filmed with exquisite digital photography. And I haven’t discussed the script, which is perfectly constructed. I can’t emphasize enough how badly you need to see this movie if you haven’t, even if St. Patrick’s Day passes.


Ebert says: “It’s one of those films where you hold your breath, hoping it knows how good it is, and doesn’t take a wrong turn. It doesn’t. Even the ending is the right ending, the more you think about it.”

Read the rest here.

~ by russellhainline on March 17, 2009.

2 Responses to “A St. Patty’s Day Watching Ebert: Once (Carney, 2007)”

  1. I loved ‘Once’ too. A friend lent me the DVD saying I have to watch it because it’s about a street performer (and I am one, too). The scene where the busker runs after a guy who stole money from his bag rang very true – I had that happen to me, too, and it ended the same way as in the movie. From there on the movie kept growing on me as it went on.

    All the best,

    Saw Lady

  2. Interesting Read! Very detailed blog.
    Thanks for sharing

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