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"Begin Again" isn't "Once" again

Despite some familiar musical themes, it's a brand new composition

I write the songs: Keira Knightley

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In 2007, writer-director John Carney gave audiences the Academy award-winning film Once. Although Carney's latest film shares some themes with its predecessor, it's dissimilar enough that I can't bring myself to make a snarky quip that it should've been called Twice.

Begin Again centers on Greta (Keira Knightley) and her longtime boyfriend Dave (Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine), aspiring musicians who finally hit the big-time. Dave just signed with a major record label in New York. All their hard work paid off - for Dave. The first taste of success is all the motivation he needs to kick Greta to the curb. When disgraced record producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) catches Greta performing in a bar, the two join forces to rebuild their lives and careers, with a little $upport from rap music mogul "Troublegum" (CeeLo Green).

Keira Knightley's Greta is tailor-made to tug at your heartstrings and stoke the fires of your righteous indignation. Knightley tackles the role with gusto. I defy you to watch such a sweet and talented woman be done so wrong and not pine for her to get her due. If you can, you must be Adam Levine.

Despite having both "moves like Jagger" and eyes you could lose yourself in, Adam Levine defies the odds in his feature film debut and makes you absolutely hate Dave's guts. Plus, his performance marks the triumphant return of the "Dexter series finale beard" that's fast becoming a trope in the movies I recommend and delights me to no end.

Mark Ruffalo's Dan is a louse, but not a total louse. Like Dave, he's made a bunch of bad decisions; but Dan isn't a despicable human being. He's just a lovable loser, and that lovability makes you pine to see him rise above his circumstances right alongside Greta. Ruffalo loses himself in the role, and it's a testament to his acting abilities that for the entire running time, I forgot the last Ruffalo vehicle I watched featured him turning into a bigger, greener Ruffalo and cold-cocking a space-whale.

CeeLo Green's "Troublegum" is basically, well, CeeLo Green; but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Certain artists possess certain tics and traits that are unique to them and can only be described as such. David Lynch is "Lynchian". David Cronenberg is "Cronenbergian". CeeLo is... "CeeLocious". He's playing an amplified version of himself so thinly veiled they may as well call him "DeeLo Breene", but this love child of Barry White and the Grimace - with a voice belonging to neither of them - is so entertaining that he needn't do anything else. I don't think this is the type of film that lends itself to sequels, but I would happily pay to see Begin Again AGAIN: The Rise of Troublegum.

This is my favorite kind of movie. All of the characters are eminently likable, except for Dave. (But since Levine does such a good job playing a jerk, it kind of balances out.) Everyone's stealing the show, but somehow nobody gets upstaged. A great cast and a great director make Begin Again a great film you'll want to see again and again.

BEGIN AGAIN, opens Friday, July 11, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, $5-$9.50, 253.593.4474

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