I am a huge fan of musicals. I love the unrealistic situations, the flashiness and I especially love people randomly bursting into song. I actually wish there was one day every year when everyone could do elaborate musical numbers in the middle of the street, like a softer and safer “Purge” event. But I digress. “Once” doesn’t have any of the things I just mentioned, which makes it a great movie for people who aren’t particularly fond of musicals. I actually watched this a few years ago after much stalling, and it quickly became one of my favorite movies, so I thought it would be a good idea to talk about it here!
At first glance, “Once” looks more like a documentary than a fiction movie. The camera is often far away from the actors, the shots aren’t precise and most of the editing consists of jump cuts, which gives an almost homemade feel to the movie. This, along with the choice to go with non-professional actors for the main pair, is something that gives the movie such a genuine characteristic without ever coming off as pretentious. I am a big fan of beautiful photography and well-done art direction, and this movie doesn’t fuss at all with neither. That doesn’t make it less enjoyable, though, because this non-fussy nature goes well with the realistic nature it proposes.
The movie follows the story of a singer and songwriter guy who works at his father’s vacuum cleaner repair shop and performs in the streets of Dublin in his spare time. One day, a Czech girl who works at various jobs and happens to sing and play the piano sees him performing and they develop a friendship. They then find out they have a lot in common, including past heartbreaks, and start working together at a demo for the guy to bring to London in hopes of landing a music contract. None of the main characters have names, and what would in some cases distance the audience from the story actually brings them closer, when paired with the other technical aspects of the movie.
The high point here is, of course, the songs. There is a reason this movie has an Oscar for Best Original Song and was turned into a Broadway musical, and that is because it works the music in a way that not only compliments the narrative, but works perfectly with it to tell the story and make the audience care about these nameless characters. The sound editing was done in such a way that some songs “leak” into the following scenes, making it seem almost like the characters are singing the soundtracks to their own lives. “Falling Slowly” and “If You Want Me” are personal favorites, but the entire original soundtrack is worth a listen. If you’re going through a recent heartbreak, I can guarantee that this is one good set of songs to have a good cry. Both Glen Hansard and Marketá Irglová are extremely talented and their voices work astoundingly well together. I do have to give props to Hansard though, who sounds unique and brings a whole new dimension to the songs.
I think my favorite part of this movie is how it managed to not be a big romantic cliché, even though it had all the potential for it. It remained realistic until the end, and the movie felt like a chapter in these characters’ lives. It wasn’t a beginning and an end, but merely a small piece of a much bigger picture. I know this movie (and the Broadway musical) has been talked about over and over again, but in case you haven’t seen it, just go watch it and I’m sure you won’t regret it!
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