Review Summary: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova convert on screen chemistry to musical bliss.
Promptly coming out of nowhere, the movie Once managed to beat the odds and become somewhat of a hit, especially with it's darkhorse victory for best song at the Oscar's for the incredibly beautiful ballad "Falling Slowly". A fitting song, for the equally as beautiful film, shot with only two cameras in seventeen days on a roughly one hundred thousand dollar budget, not to mention no prior acting experience by the two leading stars, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.
And that's what makes this film magical, the "actors" succeed without experience because they are not taken far out of their element. Both Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are good friends, and had already been making music with one another prior to their inclusion in the film. The film was created by the ex-bass player of the Frames (Glen Hansard's main musical project) and neither Glen nor Marketa were intended to be the original actors in the film. How fitting it seems, that despite that they take control of their roles and put on one of the most down to earth performances you will find, finding common ground in the one thing they both know best...music.
And that's what this film is all about. Music. Music makes up a little over half the film, and was written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova themselves. That being said, this movie relies entirely on this to set the mood and progress the plot, which it does successfully.
The movie basically is about a connection between two people and a man's musical genius inspired by heartbreak. Just take a listen to "Say it to me Now", the first peak at Glen Hansard's genius featured, being played on the streets of Dublin, Ireland at night. It's an Open E tuned extremely simplistic but dramatically sorrowful song, relying on his gentle guitar playing and fragile and highly emotional voice to carry the song until the song builds and and erupts into an emotionally wretching explosion with features Glen singing at the top of his lungs and echoeing through the alleys.
And that's the common theme throughout the soundtrack, downtrodden tracks of sorrow and longing. And also of hope and intrigue. "Falling Slowly", the first collaboration between Marketa and Glen in the movie is a most wonderful display of beauty. Fingerpicked guitar, a lovely piano melody and lovely intertwining vocals between the two stars make for a very lovely song, and one that makes the musical compatability of these two actors very relevant. Played in the backdrop of a music store in Ireland, it has a very raw feel to it, even if the album version does contain strings and other various instrumentation.
While most of the album maintains the general sorrowful songwriting approach displayed by the vast numbers of downtrodden and slow paced acoustic ballads, never do any on them begin to feel stale or lifeless. Each and every song is filled with tremendous amounts of emotion and are very genuine and endearing. And with Glen Hansard's Irish accent and Marketa's simple yet effective backing vocals it shares a striking resemblence to another young Irish songwriter by the name of Damien Rice. That may ring a bell. Some work is even tearjerking, such as the desperate "Lies", a slow paced manifestation of heartbreak, being played in the movie by Hansard while watching a video of him and his ex-girlfriend on his laptop, truly connecting the song to the sorrow within. And the breathtakingly beautiful piano ballad "The Hill" played intimately solo by Marketa Irglova and produces one of the most beautful and chill inducing moments on the entire album. A scene in the film in which she actually breaks down crying before she can even finish the song.
Not every track takes this approach. The quirky and rather upbeat "Fallen From the Sky" has a very laid back and cheerful feel to it, with a rather interesting synth line driving the song over top a simplistic acoustic melody. Along with the hilarious story of the main character's cheating ex girlfriend in country western form with "Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy." And the only non- Hansard track on the album (although he does do vocals), called "Gold" by the band Interference, a traditional sounding Irish folk song, and a beautiful one at that. Also, the vibrant and colorful "Trying to Pull Myself Away" offers a pleasant and lively change of pace from the rest of the album, coming as close to sounding like the Frames than anything else on this album.
Overall, as an album, this is a worthy listen, although to truly get the full effect and to truly feel the two character's musical love affair watch the film first. It will amplify the meaning and the feel of the tracks dramatically, and will make an overall pleasant listen truly memorable in every sense of the word. Possibly the best musical movie you will ever see in your lifetime, and some of the best music you'll hear these days as well.