-- Poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy
#49: Once (2007)
I can well understand why young people have massive problems with this genre and with its requisite suspension of disbelief. Yes, your Pontiff has noticed that, in real life, people DO NOT break into spontaneous singing and dancing. There is also the troubling subtext (in most musicals) that life can be an exciting adventure and that romantic love is possible. Many young people (not all, but many) reject those two notions like a bad kidney.
Many modern musicals attempt to address these “problems” by opting for the arch, sarcastic, post-modern, or downbeat (Chicago, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd); placing the narrative within the “music business,” thereby giving the songs a reason to exist (Dreamgirls, Begin Again, Stop Making Sense); or choosing animation, which by its very nature is non-realistic (The Little Mermaid, Cats Don’t Dance, Frozen).
The plot in brief: An Irish vacuum repairman/street performer (Glen Hansard) meets and befriends a young Czech florist/musician (Marketa Irglova). Hansard’s character (who is only billed as “Guy”) is bummed out because his cheating girlfriend has left him and moved to London. Irglova’s “Girl” is bummed out because she and her young son share a flat with her mother while her husband remains in the Czech Republic. He fixes her vacuum cleaner. She takes him to the music shop where she plays the piano on her lunch breaks. They begin to collaborate on songs.
With borrowed money the two decide to record an album, which the Hansard character intends to take to London in hopes of making his fortune. They record the album in a 72-hour marathon at a local studio with borrowed musicians. They find themselves falling love.
That Thing You Do, Bowfinger, and Shakespeare in Love this theme bubbles up again and again. We learn not only that art is transformative, but the making of art is transformative as well.
As the infallible Pope of Film, I cannot think of a single other recent film that better demonstrates the idea of art as escape. For the same reason that you or I may seek escape from our real lives by viewing films, the characters in Once are seeking an escape from their sad and limited lives through music. No matter what is going on in Dublin’s dank alleys and grey streets, all these characters need to do is pick up a guitar or start to sing and their reality is briefly transformed. Glen Hansard obviously seeks this type of solace often. His acoustic guitar wordlessly communicates this: it features a gaping maw below the sound hole where it is has been strummed to the point of obliteration. Once takes the advice of no finer experts then the Beatles, who urged us all to “take a sad song and make it better.”
Once’s Three Miracles: The music shop scene in which Hansard and Irglova first sing “Falling Slowly,” the song that would go on to win the Oscar and become a staple on American Idol; Irglova, pajama-clad and in slippers, walks to a local shop, listening to Hansard on her walkman and singing along; and the pair’s short motorcycle trip, in which Hansard finally asks Irglova if she still loves her husband. She responds in Czech “miluju tebe” and refuses to translate. She’s saying, “No, I love you.”
"In nomine Patrici, et Scorsese, qui mecum est Jai Beaie, Amen."