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I love Netflix! They are such a good electronic friend recommending movies they know I will like!

The latest one they suggested to me was an independent Irish film entitled, Once. It was probably recommended to me because I was obsessed with Before Sunrise a few years ago. That being said, if you enjoy Richard Linklater “talky” sort of films you will definitely like this one.

When I received the sleeve from Netflix I read the fine print and saw that it was a contemporary musical… “Uh-oh”, I thought to myself. Musicals have always been sort of sketchy for my tastes. They are either horribly annoying or painfully brilliant (think Dancer in the Dark or Audrey Hepburn’s Funny Face). I almost considered ditching the movie but was desperately bored at midnight and decided to watch it anyway.


Upon watching the first scene I knew it would be something that could hold my attention at least for a little while. I could tell this was a low budget film as it appeared to have been shot using low-grade hand held cameras. The film opens up with a street musician (played by Glen Hansard) performing a tune in downtown Dublin, earning spare change from those who pass by. As the man plays his rustic guitar, a junkie stumbles around pretending to tie his shoe. The musician forsees what is going on and warns the guy to back off. Eventually the inevitable happens and the junkie makes a grab for the plush guitar case which has gathered an handful of coins. The result is an on foot chase through the streets of Dublin until the street musician catches the junkie and reprimands him from stealing. In the end the message was, “If you needed something you should have asked, rather than steal” and the musician gives the poor soul a few coins.

In the next scene the street musician (whom shall remain nameless throughout the entire film) plays an original tune at night which draws the attention of a Czech immigrant street hawker girl – who shall also remain nameless. The girl (played by Markéta Irglová) walks up to the guy throws him ten cents and asks if it was an original tune. The guy says ‘yes’ while still strumming his guitar. She says she really liked it and asked why he doesn’t play it during the day. He responds that the only real tunes that make any real money – more than 10 cents – are covers and traditional songs, so he prefers to play his highly personal original songs at night. The girl assumes he does it only for the money then and recommends he gets a job in a shop. The guy begins to become annoyed, wanting to get back to playing, and says he in fact does have a job in a shop…fixing old vacuum cleaners. The girl brightens up and says she has a broken vacuum cleaner and asks if he will fix it. He says to bring it by tomorrow. After all, they hawk and play the same streets every day.

The next day, to the guy’s surprise, the girl brings he old, broken vacuum cleaner… Hesitant to continue talking to this girl, eventually the guy puts down his guitar and the two of them walk to a cafe to talk before heading back to his father’s vacuum repair shop. In the cafe the girl confesses she has a love for music and after they finish their tea they stop by her favorite music store whose owner let’s her play their pianos in the back while the store is quiet. There she proves to the guy she has musical talent and they have their first collaboration on a song the guy had in the works called “Falling Slowly”.

The two have an instant musical connection and will continue to write and record music in a matter of a week.

Don’t want to give too much away – and you may think you know what is going to happen – in the romance department – but just watch.


Besides my love of music, I enjoyed this “contemporary musical” because of the creative way they made it be a musical. It wasn’t like most musicals – where song bursts out in a surreal landslide of inappropriate timing – instead, the music weaves it’s way naturally throughout the film as the characters share their ideas for songs, collaborate, busk the streets and record. The music itself was very good and was written by the actors. In fact, their song, “Falling Slowly” won them an Oscar in 2007 and the overall film garnered a lot of attention from Sundance.

The actor who plays the street musician is Glen Hansard, lead singer of the Frames, a Dublin based band and former Frames member, John Carney, directed the film. The songs that make up Once are highly emotional and driving, accelerating towards the point of hysterical collapse. The street musician character is getting inspiration from the pain a former girlfriend has caused him as well as the excitement of meeting and making music with the street hawker girl. Guy’s actor, Glen Hansard, makes it all worthwhile and real as he employs his own incredible vocal range and carries emotional effect in his voice as he is accompanied nicely by Markéta Irglová’s soft toned voice filling out the lower registers and she fills in on piano.

The ending is sort of surprising and not what you would think of a romantic musical. I’ll just leave it at that.

At the end of the night, I gave this movie an A and thank Netflix for recommending it to me. The film was shot for around $100k, though the strict budget doesn’t sacrifice the quality of the script, music, location and overall feel of the movie. I can’t wait to see what Netflix brings my way next!

Here is a series of clips containing my favorite song from Once called “When Your Mind’s Made Up”


1 Response to “KEEP IT ON THE BROWNLOWE: “Once” Movie Review”

  1. 1 Chris
    September 29, 2009 at 10:47 am

    You know they played at The Crystal, right?
    Glen and Marketa; they toured

    I haven’t seen the film; I was afraid it’d be
    emo-cutesy… but I was not militant about it
    or anything. I’ll try to see it some time.

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