It’s a real shame that not that many people have gone to see this film, as it’s that rare thing – a modern romcom that manages to be both romantic and funny, striking just the right balance of sweetness and cynicism to make its commercial underperformance as baffling as it is disappointing. Coming from the same writer and director of the completely wonderful Irish low-budget hit Once, it achieves a similar level of completely likeable characters, humour that rings true and doesn’t feel forced, and a lingering sense of romance that doesn’t just slavishly tick off all the usual tired tropes, or adhere to the genre’s cliched formula.

It strikes a nice metaphorical note too, in that on the surface it’s a story about two down-on-their-luck New Yorkers – Keira Knightley’s singer/songwriter (recently dumped) and Mark Ruffalo’s music producer (recently fired) – who decide to record an album using unofficial, unlicensed public spaces around the city, and whatever ambient sound and nearby people to enhance it. Of course, what it’s really suggesting is that you make use of what you have when things go to shit – just grab whatever’s around you and make do, and you might find yourself surprised at the effectiveness of the results. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the music is a remarkable success – both for the characters in the film and for the audience watching.

It helps when you have people as hugely talented as CeeLo Green and Mos Def in your supporting cast, with the former lending his stunning voice to some of the tracks, and the ensemble as a whole is uniformly strong. Both leads are also terrific, with Knightley showing a hitherto-unknown aptitude for singing as well as the charm we’ve seen before, and Ruffalo (as always) finding pathos and humanity in everything he does. It’s undoubtedly a bit commercial for many, and anyone wanting to hate it will not be disappointed, but a film that demands an open mind and an open heart is difficult for this blog to dislike.

Sweet, realistic romance that looks for the magic in making music together9
Likeable comedy, particularly when poking fun at the music industry9
Kind of similar to the director's earlier film Once, only not quite as good6
Perhaps a little mainstream for some people's tastes, both musically and filmically5
Exemplifying the self-defeating hopelessness of complete cynism10
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • n/a
8Overall Score

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