The Irish musical “Once” by John Carney is very much of a gentle and quaint little elegy of life and love much like the subtle whisper that was “Me You and Everyone We Know.” Going in and out of theaters with barely a notice, it’s a shocker something so powerful as “Once” could go almost completely unnoticed. It’s just a painful crime that something as beautiful and utterly riveting as Carney’s “Once” could just completely be dismissed as another indie drama when really it’s a truly powerful musical.
My god, the first musical number from the character “Guy” singing at night on a street for spare change is so incredible, I was just thrown over how incredible it was. “Guy” is a man who is so down on his luck he chases a mugger for a few miles for a guitar case filled with spare change from his day earnings, he’s the struggling musician who is such a great vocalist and yet can barely make enough to get by. Carney creates such an understated musical that he insists on sewing these numbers into actual situations rather than having characters break into song randomly. Guy sings on a sidewalk, he sings on a bus and is told to lower his voice when he gets passionate, and he and Girl even crash a music store to jam and sing the best song of the film. “Once” is the love musical of two brilliant musicians who find one another on a random night and fall in love through collaboration and their music.
This is simply the story of a guy and a girl who connect through the music they love and the unrequited success that they never saw until they met. “Once” is nothing short of incredible; it’s a beautiful, fantastic, underrated near masterpiece that just should have received a wider campaign over mediocre junk like “Across the Universe.” Guy is a man who is longing for something in his life that the music he creates can barely fulfill, and he finds that through the Czech girl he befriends and insinuates himself into her life for the hope of gaining companionship he sorely needs. In the process the girl also discovers that perhaps she needs Guy to be her second half, the one who fulfills her creativity that’s been stifled by a simple life of selling flowers. Carney’s film is very Dickensian in its ways in which these two paupers who happen to be artists, find one another in a haze of sadness and alienation.
Their music is their catharsis, it’s their expression for their frustration and sheer repression and they have no bigger aspirations beyond just making it day by day. Most of all though they become each other’s inspiration and muse, and they discover a part of themselves and one another that was missing and needed to be discovered in the midst of their hazy lives and attempts to reach that penultimate that seemed impossible, but really wasn’t. Most of all, they discover that though they complete one another, there may not be room for the both of them in this life. “Once” is powerful, and the music just had me on the brink of tears, pure and simple. It’s probably one of the best musicals I’ve ever seen.
For those people who think musicals have nothing more to offer and have all but reached a state of irrelevance in the film medium, they should really watch “Once” and smack themselves and the people next to them. “Once” is beautiful, it’s a ninety minute poem, a mix of words, love, and song that really will give you goose bumps. I loved it.