Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My Favorite Scene: Begin Again

Warning: Critical plot details are revealed in this post.

My first experience with Begin Again was under some of the worst viewing circumstances possible. It was on my birthday last year. I was flying back to L.A. after 30 consecutive hours of delayed planes, mile-long lines for flight exchanges, layovers that never ended, and airport workers “trying their best.” I was tired and pissed off and figured that Begin Again looked as good a film as any to help pass the time. I thought the film would be easy, silly, dumb – not worth the $15 to catch it theaters, but fine for free on a plane.

The film started interestingly enough, jumping around in time to introduce us to helpless music exec, Dan (Mark Ruffalo), and heartbroken songwriter, Gretta (Keira Knightley), before they meet each other by chance. But the scene that won me over, that made me realize Begin Again is not only a film worth watching, but one worth actively convincing others to watch, was the scene where Gretta realizes her longtime boyfriend, Dave (Adam Levine), has been screwing around on her.

Dave, a famed musician on the rise, has been gone for a few days taking meetings in L.A. When he arrives home to the lavish New York loft he shares with Gretta, the two have a hug and Dave puts on a new song he recorded while away. He pours himself and Gretta glasses of wine, and the two stand in the kitchen to take the song in.
“I don’t know if I’m the fool who’s getting this all wrong,” Dave’s lyrics tell us. And then something happens. An obvious, palpable shift in mood takes place. The room becomes heavy, weighed down by Gretta’s suspicion and Dave’s guilt.

“You take me to another space in time. You take me to a higher place, so I’m about to get out of the race,” Dave bellows from the track. Gretta stares at Dave as she interprets the words, assuming the worst. Her eyes start to well. Dave can’t even look at her, his head sunk in shame. They finally lock eyes and Gretta hauls off and slaps him. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” Dave says as he walks away (the way he angrily throws his glass of wine into the sink is such a perfect and honest way to punctuate the moment). Dave walks away, Gretta turns the song off, and then Dave reenters the kitchen to confess. He hooked up with Mim, a gal who works for Dave’s label, while he was in L.A. The song is for her.
FYI, here’s Mim
“Maybe it’ll go away,” Dave tells Gretta. “Maybe it’ll fade. But I have to see it through.” We cut to Knightley’s silent but devastated face, and then the scene ends.

Now, like most great movie scenes, this one gets better every time I watch it. Gretta having the wherewithal to know something is up, and Dave throwing that wine glass, was what initially caught my eye when watching this scene for the first time. But when I revisited the film, I studied this scene and found so much more to appreciate.

The tension actually begins at the start of the scene, when Dave comes back home. Levine’s regretful, stoic demeanor is a great contrast to Knightley’s excitement when they first embrace. If you watch Levine once they’re in the kitchen, it’s almost as if he’s itching to reveal something. The fact that he so eagerly wants Gretta to listen to the new song is evidence to this. Watching the scene in hindsight, it’s almost as if he wants to get caught.
The way Gretta studies Dave as the song is playing is something only a person who has been with someone else for a very long time can do. She knows his words carry weight. She knows they came from some place new. She knows his body language, his unease. Knightley’s work here really makes you feel like these two have been together for a while. And Levine’s nuance is so captivating here. He really didn’t get the acting credit he deserved for his work in the film.

The slap and the throwing of the wine glass are unexpected and painfully real. As is Dave walking back into the kitchen after he’s stormed off. Movie arguments are rarely depicted how arguments go down in real life. In real life, they’re long and brutal and circular, which, admittedly, doesn’t really apply to this scene. On the surface, this scene conveys my initial thoughts of Begin Again, that it was going to be a generic romantic comedy in which boy falls for girl and love conquers all (this time through music). But there’s more. There’s an energy to this scene, an agonizing jolt of real life, that permeates throughout the entire film. It’s the first scene that made me consider Begin Again for what it is: a great film best judged after you’ve seen it at least once. But twice would certainly be better.

28 comments:

  1. It's finally on Showtime as I'm going to see it next month despite my loathing towards Adam Levine. I will hurt that motherfucker one of these days.

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    1. If you can suspend your hatred, I do think you'll find value in his acting, and then film itself. Hard when you hate someone, I know. But I'd love to know what you think.

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  2. Well-written piece Alex! I love watching these turning points in films and have actually re-watched this particular scene on many occasions. Its just saw raw and makes you really flinch. As soon as I read the words "long and brutal and circular" I thought immediately of that argument between Celine and Jesse in Before Midnight. Closest I've ever seen to realistic fights.

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    1. Thanks! So glad you agree about real life vs. movie arguments. Love that one in Before Midnight. In the Bedroom has a great one as well. Capturing a "real" argument was one of my exercises for Wait. There's a doozy in it that I hope people identify with.

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  3. Great post! This was a well-fleshed out scene in the movie. Not one of my favorite scenes overall, but a great scene between Knightley and Levine.

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    1. Thanks! The movie definitely has many great scenes, but I've always been drawn to this one the most.

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  4. Great write up! I agree that Dave wanted to get caught, and I loved this scene. Keira's acting with the transition of emotions playing across her face was just perfect. I seriously just love this movie. It's so sweet.

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    1. Thanks Brittani! Love that we completely agree on this scene and this movie. I love the emotional weight of this scene, tucked into such a gentle movie.

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  5. I love this breakdown so much because, for me, this scene speaks so loudly. Like, I get everything you're saying here. I remember reading people asking how she knew and why she slapped him and I'm like...HOW DID YOU NOT SEE THIS!?!?! Great job, as always, Alex!

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    1. Thanks man! There's so much nuance in this moment, so I can get how people miss the intention of the scene first time around. But man, if you're paying attention, it's a real doozy.

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  6. I remember thinking right from the beginning that he must have played the song for her because he was too much of a coward to just come out and tell her, so he did it by proxy with his song. I felt Levine did a good job considering he isn't an actor.

    The scene from the film that I like the best is one that does a great job illustrating the creative process. We first see Knightley go on stage and perform a rather ordinary sounding song and it ends (I think) with a shot of Ruffalo's character looking very impressed for some reason. A little later, though, we see the same performance from the POV of Ruffalo's character and we get to hear what he is hearing, which is the potential the song has with some production values to it. It perfectly illustrated to me what he saw because I've never been one of those "we could do so much with this" kind of people.

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    1. Yep, completely agree with your assessment of the scene. And I love that scene you're talking about, especially the way we see it from both of their perspectives. This movie really does have a handful of great set pieces. I adore the hell out of it.

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  7. Like you, I too didn't expect to enjoy Begin Again as much as I did. It's in my top 10 of 2014. Good job analysing that scene, Alex. You make a great case for Adam Levine deserving more appreciation for his acting skills. It would be interesting to know if the scene you highlight is based on real life(musicians are notorious for sleeping around so it's possible)

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    1. Thanks buddy. While I don't know this for sure, I would assume that scene is based in some sort of reality. It just feels so real.

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  8. Great write up of a great scene in a woefully underrated film. It might be Keira's best performance. I don't think she's ever been so relaxed on screen, apart from Laggies.

    I really adore it when there are scenes like this in films, especially between two people in a relationship. Before Midnight, Closer, Virginia Woolf, In the Bedroom… give me a great argument scene and I'm in love.

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    1. You're so right, she's so relaxed in this film. I love when she does contemporary-set films. Last Night? Oh my god, so good.

      Ohhhh wow, given your last sentence I cannot wait for you to see Wait ;)

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  9. Yeah, I've seen the film a few times, and this scene always sticks out. Both Knightley and Levine were overlooked for their honest work here. Ugh, I just LOVE this movie. Carney has a way of making a familiar story more interesting, and I can't wait for his next film. Excellent write-up!

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    1. Thanks man! Absolutely adore this film. So, so good. Really glad you're a fan of this scene.

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  10. It's zoomed right up my list of favorite movies ever since I watched for the first time. I liked it for its music when I came across 'lost stars' as one of the suggested songs on Youtube. But I loved it (more than i wanted to..so much so that it's my go to movie for each mood) after I started watching it. and my love grew deeper with each passing minute. My favorite moment apart from the one you've so eloquently described above is when they come out of the meeting with the Record company, after their first meeting. While bidding each other goodbye, just after hugging each other, they stall, to look at each other. That look charts their relationship, which is like a rainbow, real and unreal at the same time. For some the relationship can be a mirage - but it's not because it is so real. We see that in the sequence when they share the music one evening.
    Gosh I can go on about the movie. Again, loved the write up above! I came by your page while looking for favorite scenes from the movie :)

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    1. Love this comment, thanks so much for leaving it! I adore that scene you mentioned - definitely a strong contender for my favorite scene in the film. So, so special. Like you, I pretty much love everything about this movie. "Lost Stars" is such a good song. I absolutely love it.

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  11. Love meeting like minded people who love amazing movies. I think I can have a discussion and a half on each scene of this movie.

    Best wishes from India. I have vowed to spend more time on your blog soon. :-)

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    1. Aww thanks so much, I really appreciate it!

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  12. There’s a power to this particular world, a debilitating surprise connected with real world, of which permeates over the overall picture.

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  13. Thank you I can find someone who describe the movice scene what I exactly have question part. I love it

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    1. Thanks so much for the comment. So happy you like this scene as much as I do.

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  14. Nice write up:) this scene was like the climax of the film. i love it

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    1. Thanks! Couldn't agree more - such a powerful scene. It really is the end of them, you know?

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