Bill Knows Best Marathon: Once (2006)

I had a feeling that the wife would really love this one, every once in a blue moon I’m right!

Written By: John Carney
Directed By: John Carney

Some movies are able to hit you like a ton of bricks. I don’t want every movie to tear me down emotionally, but when a movie does its a great thing. It may not seem like a great thing on the surface, my wife crying her eyes out uncontrollably doesn’t come across as great. But, a movie that taxes you emotionally I do find to be a great thing. Once is such a movie, in its simple approach and its simple characters it presents a complex take on love that is emotionally devastating.

Movies, specifically big budget romantic comedies, love to take a very bullheaded approach to love. In the majority of rom coms love is just waiting to be found. And when you do find it you will inevitably mess it up but be able to fix it by the end and live happily ever after. Lots of laughter will be had, there will be relationship miscues, but love exists and it is waiting for the hero or heroine of the film to reach out and grab it. Once believes in love, but it believes in a much more complicated version of love. The characters in Once don’t just grab love out of the air, it’s not waiting around every street corner to fulfill their every wish and whim. The love that exists within Once must be worked for, and while it can be lost and regained, the process is not easy or full of laughter. Most importantly, love as presented in Once is not limited to one person. It is possible to fall in love with two people and due to the way life shakes out to have to choose one love over the other.

John Carney chooses not to take a complicated approach to love. He presents a simple tale with very simple characters. All of this simplicity sets in motion a trek that shows the complex nature of love. By its very nature love is complex, that does not mean the story that shows us the love in question needs to be complex. A guy and a girl meet, and they do form a kind of love for one another and great things happen because of that love. Their lives become more complex and the love they share leads them down the path that they both believe their lives should take. Not once does Mr. Carney choose to complicate the love, or the characters, of Once in his writing. He understands that by itself love and life are complicated enough. A simpler approach is required and a simpler and more emotionally resonant film is delivered.

This time out one thing that struck me about Once was the leisurely pace of the story. This is a movie that knows where it is going and takes its time getting there. Once isn’t a long movie, it only clocks in at a shade under an hour and a half. Yet, Once is not a breezy film, there is a lot going on in its quiet moments. There’s a lot being said in the silent moments during a trip to the beach. There’s just as much going on in Once when the characters aren’t singing as when they are singing. The film never rushes through any of its moments, and that allows for the film to feel so entirely real.

Speaking of the singing in Once, I will admit that after seeing this film I became a fan of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. I own the soundtrack/score of the film, and I’ve sought out the duo’s other work as the group The Swell Season. When that pair, as well as the other performers in the band, are making their music there is a tremendous energy to the process. It doesn’t matter if it’s a slow techno beat song or a loud love song, all of the music in Once is amazing and it conveys so much emotion. The music of Once is the emotional driving force of the film, it opens up these characters who otherwise would be reserved in what they allow of their inner selves to be seen.

Yeah, I kind of love Once. It’s not a perfect movie, there are a few minutes during the middle portion that are cumbersome. That being said, Once is a lovely and emotional experience. The love the film conveys is both simple and complex, and it is very, very real. Love doesn’t always have a happy ending, but then again who am I to say that the ending to Once isn’t happy and that these two characters did not go on to live incredibly happy lives. For a brief period in time a guy and a girl shared their lives, and we were allowed to be privy to their love, their lives, and their great music. That experience was more than good enough for me, no matter how emotionally draining it may have been.




Sarah’s Soapbox

I began watching Once expecting nothing more than a charming little love story with lots of music. What it ended up being is one of my favorite love stories ever full of more emotion than I was expecting. The story is really incredibly simple. Guy meets girl (and we never actually even learn either’s name), the two form an immediate friendship from a mutual love of music; they hang out, sing some songs, record together, and go on with their lives. The span of time is a week or less. It doesn’t seem like it should be an emotional adventure, but it is.

The simplicity of the plot line, I think, helped make it so real. As much as I wish life was a grand adventure each day, it often isn’t. The story of Once had no major excitement, nothing grand or extraordinary happened. The characters just went about their normal everyday activities. It was believable and relatable. I felt like they were real people, not just characters playing a part in a movie. Also the way the movie was filmed made it seem more real. I am not always a fan of the shaky camera style of filming, but in this movie it worked to give the feel that I was actually there, watching this friendship blossom into a love right before my eyes.

I would also like to say that I was a fan of the music and songs within the movie. They were well done and helped move the story along as well. It seemed as though the songs helped say what the Guy and Girl were not openly saying to each other. Since both people were music lovers it worked out well that their deepest feelings might be sung instead of said.

This movie is a major tear jerker for me as well. You spend the whole movie feeling like you are truly getting to know the characters and rooting for their love to succeed. The end is too realistic I suppose. Not everything is meant to be. You have to think of others before yourself sometimes. Life goes on. All of these things hit at once as you are waiting for the happy ending and it sort of felt like it crashed down on me. The end, though it made me cry, is not truly happy or sad. It just is. You get the feeling that both characters will be fine, but (HOW THE HELL DO I WORD THIS RIGHT AND WHY IS MY HUSBAND TORTURING ME BY MAKING ME WRITE FOR HIS BLOGGITY BLOGGITY BLOGG!!!!???) it’s not the happy ending that I wanted and the denial of that effected me greatly. I didn’t even know their names, but I felt like I truly knew them…




16 responses to “Bill Knows Best Marathon: Once (2006)

  1. I also liked the film as a simple love story but unlike so many others I could not bear the singing (the songs themselves were fine), I cringed every time he was about to get to the chorus and get loud. Almost everyone I talked to liked the film precisely because of the music and didn’t really seem to care as much about the story however it does illustrate an interesting problem when songs are now almost a given in films….how do you get past music you hate to the film you would love?

  2. Interesting review Bill. I enjoyed this. I agree it isn’t perfect, particularly in its pacing but its unique and the music is excellent.

  3. Paul – In the case of Once I don’t think there’s any getting past the music. It’s not just a movie with music in it, it’s a tried and true musical. If you don’t dig the music then chances are you’re not going to like the movie. I loved the music, and I really like Glenn Hansard’s voice, but if you didn’t like his voice that creates a pretty big barrier to completely buying into the film.

    Dan – I think the film not being perfect adds to its charm and, as you said, it’s unique nature. I can’t recall seeing any movies like Once, warts and all it’s a one of a kind film.

  4. Point granted if it was a musical but it didn’t strike me as such and I have a very restricted appreciation of the genre. It seemed like a really nice modest romance which happened to have singing because the main characters were musicians (at least the one was). i really liked it -despite the music (but loved Hansard as an actor)- because it reminded me of other small films and such a relief from the “big” films around. And I agree that the not being perfect paradoxically puts it ahead of those cleaner films that get everything right!

  5. It’s not a traditional musical, and because of that I can understand why people wouldn’t read it as a musical. I didn’t feel that way, but that’s me, always on an island. 🙂

  6. Steve Kimes

    This is in my top five soundtracks of all time and in my top romances. It is an amazingly emotional film for so little going on, but part of that is the amazing music (sorry for your disability to appreciate it, Paul). Great reviews, you guys!

  7. Thanks Steve, and it is amazing how so little is “happening” in Once, yet it carries such an emotional impact.

  8. I love, love, love, love, love, love, this movie.

    My wife and I saw it by chance in a free screening while the stars and director were doing a road trip promoting the movie before it larger release. Glen and Marketa played a few acoustic songs in the theater after the movie and did a Q&A, and it only hooked me even more. We’ve since seen them in concert several times, and my appreciation of Once and its stars has only grown. We’re seeing Glen solo in September (3rd row!), and I just keep discovering more great music from his back catalog with The Frames.

    I also highly recommend that you check out the documentary The Swell Season, which follows the band on the road after the success of Once. It’s not an easy watch as we see their relationship struggles, but it’s definitely worth seeing.

  9. I was blown away by this movie. When it came out it looked very interesting to me, but I never got around to seeing it. Then last year I found it at a used store for $1. I brought it home and absolutely loved every minute of it and then went and bought the soundtrack. I still listen to it frequently and I always get chills when I think about the movie. Thanks for your thoughts. It is great to hear other peoples thoughts as well.

  10. Dan – Didn’t know about that documentary, I’ll have to check it out sometime.

    Paul – I too quickly went out and procured the soundtrack after watching the movie. It still gets plenty of play on my iPod. 🙂

  11. I liked this movie a lot…until the ending. I hated the ending. And it’s not just because I wanted a “happily ever after” ending, but because the ending we are shown is so completely out of character for these two people that we’ve been watching for the last hour and a half. It makes no sense and just felt completely tacked on for the express purpose of making it an unhappy ending.

  12. Um, I felt it made perfect sense. All movie long he’s been piing for a girl he left while she’s been taking on the role of a responsible but yet completely ready parent. The ending has both of them continuing those character traits. He stops pining and finally decides to go and see her, which makes sense after the acceptance he gains from his father and what he discovers about himself through his interactions with the girl. She has a child and has shown she will be responsible no matter what, giving the father of her child one more chance fits with her responsible streak.

  13. Okay, I didn’t go into detail because I didn’t want to put spoilers in my comment, but since spoilers have now been presented I guess I can, too.

    Sorry, but he was not pining for the old girlfriend. Yes, he didn’t want her to leave initially, but when she did he moved on after a little bit because she had been emotionally abusive. He was able to move on because of the new connection he forged with the woman.

    As for the woman, it’s strongly suggested that she left an abusive relationship herself. You don’t move all the was across a continent, and take your mother with you, to a country where you hardly know the language, for no job, unless you have very strong reasons to need to leave your current situation. When she goes back to a (probable) physically abusive relationship, and when he goes back to an emotionally abusive relationship, it is completely out of character for the two as they have been presented up to that point. Both of them, as presented, are smarter than that. Both of them, as presented, have forged a connection with each other, moving on after the bad relationships that they got out of. The ending really seems to be done as it is precisely for the reaction it would create, rather than for a natural conclusion to the story. And it was successful at generating that reaction.

  14. I did not read either of their relationships in such a fashion.

    The relationship the man had with his girlfriend wasn’t shown to be emotionally abusive. What they did show was that they had a nice relationship, but then for reasons never provided to the audience she cheated on him. He was hurt by that, mainly because he felt betrayed while still in love with her. Thus he is pining for her, writing songs for her, and trying to move on but being unable to because he is still in love with her.

    The girl left because her country was no great shakes and she was uncertain where to go with her life there. I’ve worked with plenty of people who left their home European country to come to America or Canada without the promise of a job or money simply because they needed a fresh start. They hint that her relationship with her husband was rushed and that they never fully developed love for one another. They don’t hint at abuse, and when the film ends it shows her giving him another chance because she feels the need to for the sake of their child and maybe a fresh start and her new experiences in Ireland will allow her to connect with her husband where she couldn’t connect before.

  15. Cheating on someone IS abusing them emotionally.

    Aside from that, we obviously see things much differently. We’ll have to agree to disagree on this movie and the characters in it.

  16. I would say that the way this film shows the act of cheating it never enters the realm of chronic emotional abuse, it was an emotionally abusive act, but that did not make their relationship one that was consistently emotionally abusive.

    C’est La Vie 🙂

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