From the Oscar ceremony, the only thing to speak of when it came to the quaint Irish charmer Once is that the girl was going to speak after the song “Falling Slowly” won the award for Best Original Song, and she was cut off, but she got a chance to thank everyone after the commercial, so points for trivia in case you stuck in there for that long (I know I didn’t). For those who hadn’t seen the film before that, they were certainly missing a slightly profound and moving experience.
Written and directed by John Carney, the film’s lead characters are simply named “Guy” and “Girl”. The guy is played by Glen Hansard, who is better known to some as singer for the Irish rock bank The Frames, and he and Carney were once bandmates in the early ’90s. He’s playing guitar on a street, making some additional money, when he runs into a woman who is curious by his playing. The woman, or “Girl” if you will, is played by Marketa Irglova, who wants to see him get what he wants, which is specifically a record deal in London. The guy takes her home to meet his Dad, who runs a vacuum cleaner repair shop, and she takes him home, to meet her mother and child. Her husband split awhile back. But the film is I think less about the relationship (although one could make the case of really really wanting to see one) and more about their creative similarities. She plays piano, and the two hit it off together creatively, and perform a song together that the guy had written early in the film. That creative synergy, and the feelings they share for it, speaks volumes for the rest of the film.
The music is also what helps drive the film, and Hansard sounds like another Irish crooner of sorts in Van Morrison, singing with a voice that just doesn’t seem to jive with his somewhat reserved nature. In Irglova, the pair harmonize exceptionally well, even if there are twists and turns in her life as you find out more about her. The movie doesn’t pretend to put together any sort of second or third act drama or conflicts, but as you watch the friendship develop, it’s a powerful and alluring thing to see.
I know I haven’t really done a lot of justice to Once at least in these few paragraphs, but I would say that it’s one of thing that you should experience for yourself, there’s no bad storytelling, no phony plot contrivances, it’s a welcome breath of fresh air and film viewing for a hardened cynic like myself.
At first I was kind of surprised that a film with so much music in it sports a two-channel sound mix, but Once seems to pull it off well. Sadly though, there’s not a lot of environmental activity to really get hip deep into the film, and the music and dialogue both sound as clear as they’re going to get.
1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, reproducing the Irish streets and countryside as drably as one can possibly imagine Ireland to look. For what it’s worth, the technical qualities are taken from an unfinished screener copy, so updated scores will be provided once a final copy is received.
There are two commentaries with Carney, Hansard and Irglova which separately focus on the production and on the music. On the first track, Carney seems to drive it a little bit more, talking about what happened on set on a particular day, and speculating on the storyline. Irglova talks about her role a little bit deeper than Hansard does, but Hansard does talk about “Guy” from time to time. There’s also some silence as the track wears on, but it’s not too shabby. The second one that covers the music is scene specific to the songs on the film, and Hansard, Irglova and Carney discuss performing the songs at the time, how the songs were pulled off and what they think the songs mean. It’s a nice added perspective on how things came together. “Making a Modern Day Musical” is a making of look at the film, and Carney discusses his origins as a filmmaker and what he wanted to do for the film’s mood, while Hansard and Irglova discuss their thoughts on the material aside from that, and it’s your typical featurette. “More guy, more girl” is a look at the dynamic between Hansard and Irglova, and what Carney did to get the two to achieve what he wanted in front of the camera, along with the trio’s thoughts and experiences on the film since it came out. Both of these pieces are about 10 minutes in length. A webisode follows which is a music video of sorts with the “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy.” A digital download for the song is next (but doesn’t appear to work on the screener copy), and trailers for several films (remarkably not this one) completes the disc.
Once serves as a pleasant combination of nice music, genuine emotion and compelling characters, all wrapped up in a movie that’s less than 90 minutes long and was shot in just over two weeks. It’s as pleasant and entrancing a movie experience as you’re able to find, and the bonus material isn’t too shabby either. Save yourself the rental money and give this one a go, believe me.