Review: Once (2007)





John Carney


John Carney


85 min.


Glen Hansard, Markta Irglov, Alaistair Foley, Kaet Haugh, Senan Haugh, Gerard Hendrick, Bill Hodnett, Danuse Ktrestova, Geoff Minogue, Hugh Walsh Mal Whyte

MPAA Rating

R (for language)

Buy/Rent Movie




One of the year’s best musicals hardly feels like one. Once is about a chance meeting of two kindred spirits who come together because of their love of music.

Guy (Glen Hansard) is a street musician. He plays his guitar on street corners, crooning for money. He writes songs on the side, but aspires to something greater. His music leads Girl (Markéta Irglová) to his sidewalk location where they begin a fruitful partnership.

From there, the film follows a traditional pattern of discovery as we, and the characters, learn more about one another. The narrative doesn’t play with kid gloves. There isn’t a bunch of false sentimentality, the kind we’re regularly forced to watch in big screen musicals. Much of the emotion comes naturally through the insertion of original songs.

The film’s best scene comes early on. Guy and Girl are sitting in a music score while Girl takes one of Guy’s scores and begins to put a piano arrangement to it. Guy adds in his guitar and they create one of the most beautiful duets ever filmed. The camera takes an observational view of the scene allowing Hansard and Irglová to work magic with the song “Falling Slowly”.

It’s clear from the experient style, writer and director John Carney understands that his characters need to be presented realistically. If he had gone for the excesses inherent in the genre, the entire film would have felt forced and exaggerated. Instead, he’s created a serene, modest and ultimately passionate tale.

Hansard and Irglová deliver wonderfully subtle performances. Hansard certainly deserves the most credit for creating such a credible Everyman. He’s charming and exceptionally talented. The emotions of his character pour out of each song. Irglová’s only problem is her difficulty with the English language. While it’s quite fitting to a character of emigrant origins, it does make it frustrating at times trying to understand what she’s saying. However, when she goes into melody with Hansard, she delivers a literate and expressive performance.

There are other wonderful songs in the film and all of them seem to have a passively optimistic view of relationships. The lyrics evoke simultaneous senses of accomplishment and failure. They are as much defeatist as they are hopeful. And when combined with unobtrusive music, they become nearly unforgettable. Whether listened to as part of the film or separately on the soundtrack, it’s hard to diminish the power and creativity carried within.

Most modern musicals have a tendency towards poignant, emotional conclusions that have a sense of tragedy while still feeling optimistic. Once takes that style and improves upon it by generating the type of subtly tragic finale that conjures up faint memories of such stylish denouements as Casablanca and The Third Man.

By avoiding the typical trappings of the genre while doing its best to emulate and embrace them, Once succeeds in conveying a story that may not be urgent or revelatory, but which is nonetheless exquisite.

Review Written

January 28, 2008

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.