The movie poster was almost enough: A guy and a girl on a sunny city street, walking, talking, and carrying a guitar. Further incentive came from my friends, two of whom called me to tell me to see it. Sure, we exchanged the normal friendly pleasantries, but recommending Once was the reason they called. My good friends knew what the poster only hinted: “This movie changed my life,” said one. “I’m gonna see it again,” said the other. All of this suggested a new favorite movie. Everything was saying I had to see Once.
I went and saw Once on a cloudy afternoon, losing myself in the darkness of the theater. When the screen went to black, I didn’t want to leave. Rare is the movie so targeted to me, a writer and musician who wastes my days alone. Rare is the movie that speaks both to and for me, and stays with me forever like a friend or a dream. But Once was a movie I’d already memorized, a story I’d known but I’d never quite seen – and finally, a soundtrack to purchase immediately. Finding such beauty and truth is quite rare – yes, in a theater, but also in life.
Once was so incredible, so moving, so perfect, I’m finding it impossible to reign in my rambling, even though it’s been several weeks since I saw it. Today, on a day when I’ve locked myself inside, I’m far from feigning composure about it.
Yes, this movie will change your life. You definitely need to see Once once – and then you need to see it again.
Here, I know I should summarize the plot, and tell you, “It’s a musical, but not like what you’re thinking,” and name the director, writer, and actors. I’m pretty sure the movie takes place in Ireland, but I don’t remember its setting being mentioned. To me, these details seem small and unimportant.
The only thing that matters is the simple, timeless story, which just so happens is told through song. This musical begins as a simple boy-meets-girl; it actually ends with some real-life ambiguity. Struggling musicians find solace in song, even as they search for love in their lives. Neither of them can afford a proper instrument – the boy busks for change on his holey guitar; the girl makes arrangements on a music-store piano. (The two main characters never get named, not even in the closing credits.) The boy will leave for London soon to chase his musical muse. The girl, an immigrant, is waiting for her husband. Before he goes, will she help him make a record? As they harmonize together both literally and figuratively, their voices and words enrich their lives. They love each other as much as they can.
Time is fleeting. The city is crumbling. The songs they play together are magic.
You, too, will fall in love. You, too, will want to sing.
The boy is played by the Frames’ Glen Hansard, who unplugged his usual Coldplay-esque anthems to expose their Damien Rice-esque core. The girl is played by Marketa Irglova, a previously unknown young singer/songwriter. (Their names do matter. They’re worth remembering.) They meet over music, they woo through their songs, and they even give instruments as gifts of their affection.
The songs this pair wrote for the movie transcend it, sharing their story but standing alone. (I listened to the soundtrack every day for two weeks. Now I’m down to every other day.) Frankly, they’re miracles – not that I'm religious – perhaps the reason God gave us music, and certainly expressing the meaning of life.
And everyone else in the movie breathes music. A banker sings a song because he’s more than just a banker. A tired engineer awakens in the studio, remembering there’s more to music than just mixing it. Music means the world to these characters and me, and everyone else who raves about this film. So music, perhaps, is the real main character.
Perhaps I ought to live more fully than I do, instead of seeing movies and reviewing them for no one. But stories like this give me hope it’s all possible, living and loving and sharing my dreams, finding that person to listen, read, and harmonize.
This movie maybe changed my life. It certainly inspired me to write, if nothing else. When Once comes out on DVD, I know I’m gonna watch it again and again. Maybe I’ll be able to share it.