• Reel Reviews

Once: Not Just Another Movie Musical

written by: on January 6, 2012

It was “the little indie film that could.” An unsuspecting couple of musicians took their music and script, together with passion and a vision, and created exceptional work. A low-budget and a simplistic screenplay made Once an early underdog, but what spawned its greatness was rare creative energy and unmatchable musical chemistry.

Once is a sort of common movie-musical that was made unordinary by its captivating music. What quickly connects the viewer to the music is its down-to-earth quality as each placement of raw vocals, genuine accompaniment and incredibly telling lyrics enter their minds. It’s easy to tell that project was put together very organically, disregarding extra care for audible perfection for a more admirably flawed demeanor.

The film begins with “Say It to Me Now,” opening into the story of a exceptional musician, played by The Frames’ frontman Glen Hansard, who gets lost in his own work as he frames his art around his evolving lifestyle. But it doesn’t always seem that way: the man singing initially seems like a lousy street performer with no chance of getting noticed or standing out from the crowd. It seems he was missing the talents of a girl, played by Czech songwriter Markéta Irglová, who saw a real wonder in him. The two performing separately are great, and when combined, the result is brilliant.

Thus is how “Falling Slowly” came to fruition. After the girl persuades the guy a bit and distracts him from his act, they venture to a charming piano shop, which is where she often goes to play the piano. What the couple creates here transforms the movie from insignificant to inspiring in an instant.

Framed by musical instruments hanging on the wall, the two sit in the shop as the man (on guitar) runs two lines of music past the woman (on piano). She quickly transposes them into melodies, painting the canvas with his words on the black and white keys. Soon, the two harmonize the lyrics of “Falling Slowly,” which, almost ironically, neither of them would’ve guessed that the scene would have eventually become iconic.

In a live version of “Falling Slowly,” Hansard describes its success:

“Like any song you write, … you hope that it’ll work. This song is a bit like, … you kick your ball and you hope that it’ll reach the end of the garden, and your ball goes over the wall, it goes over the river, it goes over the next town, and it goes into a place you never imagined it would end up.”

The song never gets lost in the crowd, regardless of its circumstance. Each metaphor stands alone as one of the most exciting in history, allowing the piano-guitar softness to describe the desire they speak of to breathe life into itself. As the vocal instrumentation dances from comfortable to falsetto and back again, the emptiness almost literally falls onto the tracks of time. We couldn’t get away from this song in 2007, and that was alright.

It’s not certain whether the songs were crafted around the script or vice-versa, but the two seem to balance each other out ridiculously well. “Lies” tells of Marketa’s past, leading her to become a single mother as Glen acts as the main vocalist to symbolize a changing network of trust in her life. The two soon fall in love over the course of the week, in which they dropped everything and simply made music. With a little help from trusting producers, they were able to record their music.

A new opportunity inspired Hansard and Irglová to use new materials in their recording process, and in songs such as “Trying to Pull Myself Away” and “Fallen from the Sky,” Glen sings of his gratefulness for the new love in his life along a lightweight electronic rhythm.

Other shining moments in the film include Irglová’s lovely, dark, dreamlike vision coming to life in “The Hill” and the song that describes their apprehension for romance in “If You Want Me.” But what shouldn’t be forgotten is the story of Hansard’s past in the song “Leave,” which helps allude to the romance between the musicians.

Most of what viewers hear in the movie is live. So, when listening to the soundtrack, part of the magic is lost because it’s simply more rehearsed and edited to perfection. It’s the unfiltered flow of music that really makes the film glow. The story certainly couldn’t have told itself strictly based on on-screen chemistry. The melodies and lyrics are what drive the story home.