Back when "Once" was still in theaters, I knew it was something I wanted to see. I just never got around to it and watched as it kept getting more and more acclaim. Now, this little film is on many critics' top ten lists and available on DVD, which gave me even more reason to check it out. It felt like an indescribable movie, something that I had to see for myself to know if I would truly, really like it. Well, I rented it, watched it, and they were right.
The formula is simple. Take a budget of nearly nothing and 88 minutes and create a movie filled with pure emotion and absolutely great songs. The movie contains hardly any dialogue and is driven by the heart behind its music, and it doesn't even have names for its main characters. Taking place in Dublin, it's simply about a guy and a girl who meet one day and decide to make wonderful music together. The Guy (Glen Hansard) is a street musician playing for money, and the Girl (Marketa Irglova) stops to listen and loves his music. She's a pianist herself, and he wants to hear her play. They go to a nearby music store where she knows the owner, and she sits down at a display piano to play him something. He then offers a song of his own for them to play together. And so they do. There is the longest delay before anything else happens next; we are simply watching and listening, completely drawn into the moment, which is exactly what the movie wants.
The relationship that grows between these two is so warm and sweet because these are two good-natured people. They are falling for each other, yes, but they aren't merely picking each other up. Even better is that we sense the real passion for music these two real-life musicians have. Glen Hansard is known in Ireland as the leader of the band The Frames, and Marketa Irglova is an immigrant from the Czech Republic and only 17. They are simply playing themselves, how they would be in the real world. They actually love music as much as they want us to think they do. And that's what is so pure about it.
The Guy decides he has become too cynical to write lyrics for his own love song, and he enlists the Girl to help him. Soon enough, they decide to gather a group of other street musicians together to record a demo of his songs. They get the job done, and their story progresses mostly through terms of song. We meet her daughter and find out she has a husband, which both come as a surprise. And we find out he's taking his music to London, and he has a girlfriend he dumped. This is not just a conventional love story; their bond occurs by chance and grows into something deeper and riskier than anything of what it could be.
John Carney's "Once" doesn't aspire to be anything more than just down to earth. It doesn't hold any great ambitions and simply wants to express the joy of making and listening to music. And it communicates this longing so easily and honestly that it's magical from start to finish. This is the kind of movie that you silently watch in awe, holding your breath in admiration. Every single musical number soars, and you'll be swooning right along with each one. It's a movie where you wonder if it knows how good it is, and then you're so happy when it never missteps. Even the mixed emotion bittersweet ending, too, you'll realize, is perfect. This is a winning movie.