Thursday, October 11, 2007

Once: If You Can Only Stand To See One Romantic Movie Ever This Should be The One

I had a poetry professor who once, when talking about Wuthering Heights, said "For those who like it, nothing else will quite do."

The same can be said of Once.

It's a movie that defies description. For those who insist on categorization, you could call it a musical, but that brings to mind all sorts of mis-characterizations that don't do justice to Once.

It's a film where the music tells an important part of the story like a musical, but without any awkward transitions or more importantly, the choreography and cheesiness. Nor does the film use music as cheap emotional shorthand the way Cameron Crowe uses it - that is, in lieu of dialogue. The feel of the movie reminds me of small parties at my friends who were musicians. Someone picks up a guitar, plays something and everyone sort of joins in or listens.

The two main characters are simply known as "The Guy" and "The Girl". He is a vacuum repairman and performs as a street musician after work. She's an immigrant who cleans houses and sells flowers on the street, but likes to go the music store in her spare time to play the piano. The Guy and the Girl meet cute on the street, but their meeting seems more real than any other movie meeting, as there's a straightforwardness and awkwardness to it that you get in real life.

As the story progresses, it never seems to strain credibility that they communicate best through music, because in large part the story is about things you can't really say. There's a touching scene on the bus where the Girl asks him about his ex, and he grabs his guitar and sings her a country inspired tune about how she cheated on him. It's a perfect scene, and it never for a moment feels forced, although in lesser hands it certainly would be.

Their story is about what could be. He still hasn't recovered from the girlfriend who left him, and the Girl's past in her homeland is catching up with her. In your usual romantic comedy it's never clear why the characters are so afraid of getting hurt as they're rarely well developed enough for us to understand their emotional baggage. In Once, despite the generic names of the characters, their baggage is apparent and realistic and it threatens the happiness of now. And truly, what could be more real than that?

I can imagine that some people will see this film and say "I don't get it." To these people I'd say, just forget about it, because there's nothing to "get". For those to whom this film will appeal, understanding it will be as natural as waking up in the morning.

When I saw the film in the theater, I didn't even try to hide that I cried at the end. Because I knew then that nothing else would quite do.

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Addemdum: The characters in the film are a couple in real life and also tour under the names The Frames and The Swell Season. They're on tour this next month in the U.S. if you want to check them out.

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