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CLASSICS: Once (2007)

May 1, 2011

(originally written on July, 23, 2007)

written by: John Carney

produced by: Martina Niland

written by: John Carney

rated R (for language)

85 min.
U.S. release date: May 18, 2007 

DVD release date: December 18, 2007

I’ve been in a hurry to see this movie since its release because I know that (despite rave reviews), a “guy meets girl” movie with its brain and heart where it needs to be, usually have a limited and/or short release. What attracted me was the simple story that seemed to contain so much more.  I heard it was about an Irish singer-songwriter/guitarist (the “guy”) with emotional baggage who meets a struggling Czech flower seller/musician (the “girl”) while performing on the streets of Dublin. The two discover they are kindred spirits through their music and much more. With that premise, I was sold. Sure, I heard the music would be incredible (and it is), but most of all when you find a realistic love story in cinema lately, just like love….you want to get lost in it and then tell everyone about it.
That’s exactly what I did. 

This is a love story with real characters in it. There’s nothing entirely cinematic about these characters, these are just ordinary people you might see or meet anywhere. No insanely, knock-out gorgeous people here. No Jessica Biel falling for Adam Sandler antics goin’ on here. The movie benefits from that premise (and promise), as well as a documentary handheld camera feel with an obviously extremely low-budget. There are pure intentions here at the films heart and a creative passion for musicianship, which is perfect because if there was anything added the film would just come across as rather pretentious. 

The Guy (Glen Hansard) is a working-class Irish dreamer, plugging away in his father’s vacuum repair shop by day and hitting the streets to perform his songs at night. During one of his street corner concerts, Guy meets The Girl (Marketa Irglova), who is smitten with Guy’s guitar playing and touched by his lyrics. After some flirtatious pushing and pulling, Guy asks Girl to form a makeshift band, fashioning a cautious bond between the two that dances with love, but never seems to settle, much to Guy’s frustrations and heartache.

What really sold me with “Once” were the intimate moments between the characters. It just all seemed so real and I cannot think of anything else to describe it….just real. You can tell there was little getting in the way of this film, no studio interference whatsoever is felt here. The end product being a soft, trembling feature that believes in the magic of infatuation and silent agony of unrequited, uncertain love. It’s an open wound of stifled emotions, and I was quite taken with the interesting ways it attempts to portray the unstoppable connection between man and woman here, employing the eternal connection of music.




Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova in Fox Searchlight's Once


Hansard (lead singer of the Irish band The Frames) has really only had one other noticeably role as a guitarist in 1991’s “The Commitments” which is actually to his benefit. It’s much more effective to have an unnoticeable actor perform in this role and Hansard, being a musician, helps to deliver an effective passion and reality to the character. It serves to benefit the storytelling as well. I was blown away by Irglova, specifically with this being her acting debut role. Really. She responds to those around her naturally and has an astute listening ear. She remains in the moment because she is true to the reality of the role and has no inhibitions. Even if she does, she works them perfectly into the character. 

Both actor’s performances add a certain freedom to the film. It’s obvious that director John Carney likes to rely on the freshness of the talent. Trusting their unease with acting will bring out the gentle awkwardness between the characters. This technique works; slowly sucking in the viewer as the two grow more comfortable around each other, especially when they create music.  I’ll go ahead and say that some may not like Hansard’s songwriting or musical delivery. I loved it but then again I’m a big fan of acoustic singer-songwriter work.


Regardless of a viewer’s opinions of the music, the passion behind the tunes cannot be denied and speaks volumes about the characters. It really is  impossible to turn a cold shoulder to the romantic pining blossoming between the characters when they combine their voices, edging “Once” closer to the musical genre at times. Many have said that this film plays like a modern musical but for me the music is just another star, an inevitable player that progresses the story instead of stopping the story for mere exposition. There is character and story growth while the music is played, it’s not just video montage fluff. 

Does the movie have a happy ending? Let’s just say it has a real ending and the “happy” is seen in the realism portrayed throughout the movie.



Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard in Fox Searchlight's Once


Some may be a bit put off by the dizzying hand-held camera work incorporated at times, but it does add an additional realism to the overall feel. It’s almost unfair to call out the technical limitations of the film when it really just a sweet and humble tale. Apparently, it was shot with a commercial DV camera, resulting in jittery long lenses and camouflaged camera placement that bring such a raw, unfettered look at two souls finding perfect sync. Admittedly, it frees the film from succumbing to the pressures of the “meet cute” and assorted romantic nonsense we are so often subjected to. 

Carney may be victim of becoming a little too enamored by the cinematic limitations, and it’s possible he loses some excruciatingly important scenes to darkness and lousy focus. But, that’s picking nits since the overall package is so wonderful. I don’t really need to see all the moments of emotional longing and heartache, as long as I can feel it. 
Although the music is fantastic, I really liked the quiet moments in this film just as much as the musical scenes. There’s a moment shared between Guy and his father (Bill Hodnett) where they sit in a cramped kitchen and listen peacefully to Guy’s demo. Because the character of his father has only been slightly developed, we don’t really know what his reaction to the demo will be. His father has already been seen as kind and quiet, but he seemed to have a permanent frown on his face. But his reaction is one of subtle sweetness, and it sums up the movie beautifully. 

This is a warm picture intended for soft hearts who appreciate the ache of attraction. I loved it and consider it my Top 10 of 2007 already. It’s too bad it’s a movie that will most likely be hard to find in your area theaters. If you’re looking for a film to move you, there’s an exceptionally sincere, expressive quality present here that is universally appealing.
RATING: ****                                   
Keeping It Reel CLASSICS is a feature that showcases movies that we deem as simply, classics. Whether they be old or new, they somehow resonate and stand out in our cinematic memory. We invite you to discover them yourselves, again or for the first time. Here are some others….    
7 Comments leave one →
  1. april tierney permalink
    May 1, 2011 6:01 pm

    b4 i finished reading this review, i wondered if it was about Glen and Marketa. (i did not hear a film was done) i have loved their music since i first heard it and knew their story. now i look forward to seeing the film as well. thanx for your review!

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      May 1, 2011 6:38 pm

      there’s also a documentary coming out called “The Swell Season” about what happened to them after the film, the Oscar win & the tour. It should come out sometime this summer or fall. check it out:


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