I loved Once.
Once is the story of a thirtysomething Dublin street musician, played by Glen Hansard of The Frames. One day, he’s approached by a younger Czech woman (Markéta Irglová). She is disarmingly direct about his music, and everything else, and we quickly learn about his broken heart. Less quickly, we learn that she, too, is a musician. Even less quickly than that, we learn that she has some relationship issues of her own. Nevertheless, a friendship—and a flirtation, of sorts—ensue. I won’t go into the details here; you’ll want to experience them for yourself. Suffice it to say, though, that it’s just too easy, and a bit misleading, to call this “a love story.” Once is as much about limits as it is a love story. Director John Carney reminds us that there are many different kinds of affairs.
Once is also about music. As A.O. Scott said in the New York Times, it surely “seems silly and grandiose to lavish praise on a movie whose dramatic crux is the recording of a demo tape.” But you’ll definitely find yourself rooting for the main characters to meld musically. They’re each struggling financially as well as spiritually, and that demo tape sort of seems like it might be an answer to any number of problems.
The music is central. I haven’t mentioned it yet, because I didn’t want to give you the wrong idea, but Once is a sort of musical. It’s a musical in the sense that the music advances the plot, anyway. But it’s not a musical in the South Pacific or Oklahoma! sense, where songs spring out of nowhere. Once is a low-key, everyday sort of musical. The music is entirely natural to the plot, and there’s never a song that feels like it was grafted on. Best of all, the music is smart and beautiful. (You can listen to some of it at the film’s website.)
I haven’t at all done Once justice here. But I liked everything about it. Hansard and Irglová, despite not being actors, are charming and polished. The plot is intimate, touching. The music stays with you.
Once is highly, highly recommended.