Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Once is Enough, Top Albums

I don't get it. Once is one of the best reviewed films of the year, and was mentioned on a number of Top Ten lists - nationally and in our little circle (where intelligent folks like Mike Lyon, Maggie Lyon, Alberto Zambenedetti, and Matt Singer either slotted in the top ten or as a near miss). But from my myopic perspective, it's easily one of the worst - as manipulative as any Hollywood romancer, just minus the charismatic leads and competent cinematography. No movie I've seen in 2007 is as visually ugly as Once, which turns the Emerald Isle into a palette of muddy pixelated browns - an example of how not to utilize DV.

Once is a musical romance - and it fails to entertain on both counts. Glen Hansard's tunes are ponderous, rhythmless odes to his own sensitivity - all peak with a tremulous falsetto as he longs for a gal. The songs, however, give no clue as to why the gal should have any reason to want him. A worse sin, however, is director John Carney's inability to find dynamic visuals to enliven the humorless songs. Instead we're treated to a lot of cinematic wallpaper - my favorite being the beachside frisbee game after the recording studio session. It reveals nothing of the characters or their relationships, existing merely as a placeholder for the song, the inane "Falling Slowly" ("You have suffered enough/And warred with yourself/It's time that you won"), to play again. This is true of almost every musical performance - there is often no story or character information advanced during the songs - everything just screeches dead for the 500th shot of mutual (but restrained!) longing between Hansard and his enigmatic love object, Marketa Irglova.

Irglova gives a likeable, cutesy, performance, and Hansard has a certain gangly charm - but they're not nearly charismatic enough to carry the sexual undertones the film reaches for with its threadbare script. Hansard's awkwardness comes off more like the sloppy advances of an hormonal adolescent than the flirtations of brooding artist. They never convey the feeling that anything is at stake.

What is most revealing about the film is what it chooses to mock - almost every secondary character is a caricature or a punchline. From the loan manager/crooner (whose tune is no less ridiculous than Hansard's), to the awkward/kooky backing band, to Marketa's TV-loving flatmates - everyone who is not Hansard (or his father, played beautifully by Bill Hodnett - the best part of the film) is a joke. Even Marketa's child is more of a prop than a character, just more stacking of the deck to make Hansard the sensitive superman the film wants him to be. This kind of ploy is a shortcut to audience sympathy - the kind of thing people rag Hollywood dreck about all the time - but Once gets a pass because of its low-budget and festival rep.

And speaking of tunes, here are my favorite albums of the year (of the few I heard):

M.I.A. - Kala
Miranda Lambert - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Ray Price - Last of the Breed
Brad Paisley - 5th Gear
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter 3 (a premature placement, since I've only listened to it once - but I'm confident it'll remain a favorite)
Lucinda Williams - West


Blogger Mike said...

Maybe it's because I love me some Hollywood dreck too, and maybe it's because I found the music dovetailed well with the emotional manipulation, but I did love Once, and it certainly wasn't because the actors were amateurs and it was a no-budget ride so I decided to be forgiving.

For me at least, part of my quick attachment may be simple character identification - the emotional arc of the characters is eerily similar to a relationship of my own with certain shady beginnings. Beyond this, I sincerely enjoyed the music - in particular I find the scene in the music store where Irglova and Hansard sing for the first time to be sincerely powerful and an amazing window into the genesis of fruitful musical collaboration.

Back in the stone age I busked and I laid down shitty tracks of my own and with other shitty musicians - but even then there was that occasional spark that suggested something great and important was happening. I think Once perfectly captures the truest essence of musical discovery, and that's why I slotted it so high on my top ten.

11:49 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

I'm glad you said it because it's looked like nothing but awfulness to me from first sight but I do have a hatred for most charming and poetic 'musicians' and the type of romance that I saw coming from the getgo on this one. So, I can happily skip it. Thanks.

And a great 2008 to you!

8:03 PM  

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