“Once” is a put-your-arm-around-your-girlfriend kind of movie.
A modern-day musical, “Once” could best be described as a happenstance meeting between two lonely people who wind up making sweet music – literally.
He’s a self-described “broken hearted hoover fixer sucker guy” – working in his father’s vacuum cleaner repair shop by day, playing his own music on the streets of Dublin by night. She’s an immigrant street vendor, trying to make ends meet to support her mother and child, who uses her lunch breaks to tickle the ivories at a music shop. They meet and the chemistry is nearly instantaneous – she adds perfect harmonies to his songs, and he’s inspired enough to invest in some serious time in a music studio.
Instead of breaking out randomly into song, the music is woven into the story as the natural interaction between two musicians. The first time they play together, he carefully hums her the melody and she adeptly picks up the chords. Before you know it, they’re crooning a mini-masterpiece that you’ll be humming long after you leave the theater. The music was intended to flow with such ease that “you wouldn’t have to suspend your disbelief” explained writer director John Carney – and you don’t. This film and its music are a lot of things – lovely, charming, a little heartbreaking – but never contrived.
A lot of musicians give acting a shot once they’ve made it big, and sometimes actors try music – and the extent of their success is arguable, though usually, well . let’s not go there. “Once” proves that you don’t have to be known at either to be tremendously skilled at both. “Once” stars newcomers Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. They also wrote the music. And performed it. They shine together on screen with a teasing romantic chemistry that most Hollywood couples fail to achieve.
And they’re not bad off-screen, either. A few days after the U.S. premiere of “Once” at the Sundance Film Festival, Hansard and Irglova, with Carney moonlighting on bass, performed music from “Once” along with a small repertoire of other original work. The intimate performance on Main Street in Park City may have helped spread the word about the film. The festival ended up screening “Once” several more times than originally intended, and this past Sunday it left Sundance having won the Audience Award in the Dramatic World Cinema competition – placing it in the company of films such as “Hustle and Flow,” and “Whale Rider.”
This is not surprising. Irglova is a multi-instrumentalist with a great voice, who at only 18 seems to have a promising career in front of her. Hansard has been performing for quite some time as the founding member of up-and-coming Irish rock band the Frames. Having met in her native Prague a few years ago, the two produced an album under the name “The Swell Season.”
Album of the same name contains most of the songs from “Once,” and in the meantime will probably be your only way of experiencing the magic of this film and its music. As of this writing, it appears that “Once” has not yet been purchased by any domestic film distributors – but it should, and a late summer or fall release would not be surprising.
After their set, Hansard talked about his upcoming US tour with the Frames – and hinted at a mid-March performance at the 9:30 Club. You can bet The Hatchet will be there. And let’s hope that Hansard’s Czech muse makes a cameo so that they can recreate their chemistry here in D.C.