Once (2006) – Oh, what a thing is hype. There was a time when I worked at the Virgin Megastore in San Francisco. Periodically we would get passes to see movies well in advance of their release. That’s actually how I saw Slumdog Millionaire and Knocked Up. One day I was in the break room and saw passes for a movie called Once. I didn’t go and for the life of my I can’t remember why… because it was like seven years ago or something and I can’t be expected to remember every little detail of my life! Anyway the film’s reputation grew. It was the highest per-screen grossing film for weeks on end and was in theaters for months. Still didn’t see it. It got rave reviews and it seemed like every other customer at Virgin was buying the soundtrack album. Still I didn’t see it. The movie was transformed into a Broadway musical that won a bunch of Tonys and had Christin Milioti (the titular mother on How I Met Your Mother). Still didn’t see it, movie or play (though in my defense on the play it is fairly expensive and it sold out quickly). Now this wasn’t any conscious act of defiance or resistance on my part. Sometimes you just don’t get around to seeing something. Anyway, bumped it to the top of my Netflix queue and decided it was time to see what all the hype was about.
Glen Hansard plays a thirty-something musician (never named, referred to in the credits as “Guy”). He works in his father’s vacuum cleaner repair shop and makes extra money busking on the streets of Dublin. It is at this second job that he meets a young Czech woman (Markéta Irglová, also never named and referred to in the credits as “Girl”) who admires his songs. They talk about the inspiration for them; the guy still pines for a lost love. Eventually they get into something of a songwriting partnership, as exemplified in a scene where they collaborate on the song “Falling Slowly” (which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Song). The girl gets the guy’s ambition up and he decides to try to make a demo so he can go to London and make a serious go of it as a musician, and just maybe win that lost love of his back.
Normally I think I go too long on the summary paragraphs of these reviews, trying to cram too much in. This was, by contrast, a case of trying to stretch it out a bit. This movie is not heavy on plot, preferring to focus on character. That is an approach that has led to some of my favorite movies. Once doesn’t quite cross that water-mark to my favorites list but it is a very pleasant little movie that I enjoyed. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are likable and winning in the leads and the music that they composed for the film is very good (I will probably be joining the throngs of people who bought the soundtrack). This likely owes somewhat to their pre-existing friendship, which became an actual (since ended) romance during production of this movie, and their musical collaboration as The Swell Season (whose albums I may also be picking up). Once moves very slowly, so to people who don’t have the patience for a movie like that: this may not be your flick. For the rest of you it’s just a nice little view into the lives of some well-realized characters. And a pretty great soundtrack.