Once is an unconventional story, which is the very reason I could not take my eyes off of the screen until the ending 85 minutes later. I had my doubts when I queued the DVD up, but after the first scene where the main character, played by Glen Hansard, sings his guts out on the streets of Dublin, I was instantly mesmerized by this poignant story. Like a much more subdued Across the Universe, this movie offers less visual intensity, but the role played by music makes these two movies comparable as they both break into a new category: the modern, edgy musical.
This movie was made on a tight budget and released in Ireland initially, then in the United States on May 17, 2007. John Carney, writer and director of Once, is a TV writer, director, and bassist from Ireland. Although Carney spends most of his career making movies, he was a member of The Frames, a popular Irish rock band, in which Hansard was a member of as well. When Carney started preparation on the film, Hansard was just set to record the soundtrack. But when the original actor fell through, Carney gave his old friend, Hansard, the role.
The female lead, Markéta Irglová, and Hansard had also known each other before the movie like Carney and Hansard. With the filming of the movie, Irglová and Hansard’s relationship grew. They are now dating, thus making the movie essentially a documentary of their developing feelings for each other.
Where most movie storylines pick up at the moment right before a man and woman meet, fall in love, and then get hitched, this movie veers away from that. The story picks up in a chapter of the character’s (“Guy” and “Girl”) separate winding lives. While it’s easy to assume that the Guy and Girl will end up together throughout the movie as they spill their love sorrows, it is not entirely as it seems.
This movie can’t be discussed without mention of the lyrical, raw music created by the Guy and Girl either. While the music never involves dancing in the streets atop a roof, the music is entwined beautifully and unobtrusively throughout the movie. Even though the music doesn’t carry out the dialogue through the lyrics, it does, in fact, add insight into the deep emotion between the two characters.
The color palette that the movie is filmed in is something to take notice of as well. Once is full of cold colors that come across as dismal and they really shape the mood of the story. The only time where the colors are bright and full of life are when the Guy goes through the montage of film taken of his former girlfriend and him. This might symbolize an absence in the Guy and Girl’s relationship, internally and visually.
While this move has the potential to turn a typical romantic comedy audience off, it makes the movie all the more real and relatable for me. Things are never really as they seem in life, just as things in this movie are not always as perfect as they appear. It’s a great spin on a seemingly typical story line that’s laced with a beautiful interweave of music.