Begin Again is a pure delight from start to finish, filled with laughs, catchy music, and a bright spirit. A tad melancholy to be sure, but like John Carney’s previous heartfelt musical-romance Once, his newest effort is long on charm and inherently likable. Mark Ruffalo, in one of his very best performances, is a sloppy, beaten-down, old school music executive who, after a night of heavy, depressing drinking, stumbles into a NYC bar and just so happens to hear the voice of a talented, equally-down-on-her-luck singer (the effervescent Keira Knightley, who should have been Oscar nominated for her work in this film). Ruffalo hears Knightley singing, and in one of the best sequences of the year in any film, he imagines the musical accompaniments that would pair with Knightley as she’s singing and playing solo guitar, with Carney playfully visualizing Ruffalo’s imagination. It’s mutual respect at first sight for the artist and the producer, but will it blossom into something more? The two music lovers decide to record an original album, preforming all of the songs all throughout NYC, out in public areas, in an effort to create something special and organic and long lasting. Carney is a heartbreaker with a smile, a guy who loves the tropes of the romantic dramedy but enjoys tweaking the formula just enough so your expectations are subverted at almost every turn. He’s also a massive fan of keeping his potential love birds apart from one another for as long as humanly possible, which will annoy some, but delight those of us who know that life isn’t as simple as “I do” and “I don’t.” If Begin Again isn’t quite the movie-miracle that Once was, well, that would have been impossible to replicate for a variety of reasons, but it’s still a hugely entertaining movie that will likely prove impossible to resist for anyone who gives it a chance.

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