Once (2006) — Boy and girl make sweet music together

“What’s the Czech for ‘Do you love him?'”

Lissa’s rating: Heck with the film – I want the soundtrack!

Lissa’s review: So, there’s this musical, Once. Now guys, before you run screaming from your computer to drown yourself in the nearest testosterone source like football or grilling (or just hit the back button), hear me out on this. Once is not a normal musical, and you might actually like it. People don’t randomly burst into song – there’s actually an explanation that makes even more sense than “it’s all in her head” or “a demon has come to Sunnydale” or “a patient has a massive aneurysm.”

Once is the story of a guy and a girl, both of whom love music. I wouldn’t call it a romance, per se, but it is a love story. Over the course of a week, she helps him record an album, thus giving the excuse for the people singing aspect. But more than recording the album, they help each other heal from past romantic wounds. But in a subtle way, not schmaltzy.

I really wanted to see Once because I knew it was a musical, but I didn’t know anything about it. Then we started watching it, and I groaned to myself and was pretty convinced I was going to hate it. Once has the same pacing and feel and tone as Lost in Translation, which I hated, and the lead character’s accent and facial hair reminded me intensely of David Thewlis in Naked, which I also hated. Then they started singing, and I decided I’d keep my negative opinions to myself, because the music was that good. And then… then the story just grew on me.

One thing that always bothers me about Hollywood and fantasy novels is the fact that relationships are either True Love or End Very Badly, generally with cheating or abuse or other nasty behavior. And yeah, I believe both happen. But both Hollywood and fantasy tend to neglect something else – the relationship where it doesn’t work out, but you both benefit from it anyway and part on good terms, knowing that even if you won’t spend your lives together, your lives are enriched from being together. They happen, you know. Sometimes, perfectly good people date (or get interested in each other) and just don’t fall in love or just don’t want the same things. One of the things I REALLY liked about Once is that it acknowledged that. That’s kind of rare.

Once is not a complicated story in terms of big events or plots or even startling revelations. But there’s a slow, sweet charm to it, and a certain amount of innocence. I mean, take away the language issues (how many times did they drop the f-word in the first few minutes?) and the movie could easily be rated G. And the characters are actually quite likeable. But the music… wow, I loved the music.

When I was in high school, I took a class called “Literature of Musical Theater.” I had a teacher who was, quite honestly, one of the best teachers I have ever had. Every time we’d read a musical and hit a song, he’d ask the same question: “What is the purpose of this song?” It’s that question that actually makes Once a musical. While all of the songs are framed in the context of “singer recording an album”, they all have a narrative purpose within the story. That’s what actually makes me call Once a musical as opposed to a story about music. But the songs are lovely, and the soundtrack would easily be a great buy for anyone who likes this genre of music. It reminds me a bit of…well, I’m not sure. It doesn’t sound like Broadway or Moulin Rogue, but I’m not familiar enough with non-country music these days to give you a band name. Sort of alternative, sort of rock, really nice.

It’s kind of a slow movie, and the accents made it very difficult for me to understand half the dialogue (but that’s a personal quirk and has a lot to do with my hearing loss), but Once is very worth renting and sticking through. It really blossoms.

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