All three of our fans may have picked up on the fact that I like the phrase “cute little film.” I use it too much, I know, and it comes off sort of backhanded sometimes, but in this case every word is true. Once is absolutely adorable (for which cute is an appropriate synonym), it is very little in scope and in budget (reportedly $160,000), and – yes – it is a film.

A guy and a girl (we never learn their names) meet cute on the street while he’s busking with his guitar, they play some music together, have some discussions about life, and cut a record. And that’s about it. But boy is it engrossing and emotional. For two characters whose names we never learn, I got utterly caught up in their lives. And the music’s pretty damn great.

I’ve been a fan of Glen Hansard’s band, The Frames, for a bit. They’re a fun, sort of poppy Irish rock band with a knack for writing good, passionate lyrics (director John Carney used to be the band’s bassist). Hansard’s a surprisingly good actor and does a great job selling the distraught starving artist role. Marketa Irglova… well, she’s not as good of an actress but she’s so enchanting on the screen. She’s not just very beautiful but also comes off so sincere. So even as I found her acting to be a bit off she’s sort of the cornerstone of the film and something that really makes it special.

The “real world musical” technique of this film is interesting. People don’t just break into song and dance like a regular musical. Every song makes sense within a real world environment: a duet in a music shop, a session in a studio. When they sing on the bus they get dirty looks.

And how about that music? So gorgeous. The soundtrack immediately got about 20 spins on my Rhapsody account and an order off Amazon. The songs are so full of heartbreak, loneliness, and passion, backed with such sweet melodies. “Falling Slowly” and “If You Want Me” were eligible for the Best Original Song Oscar and the former was nominated. There’s currently some debate about its originality to Once (it appeared on a Hansard/Irglova album and a Czech film at about the same time Once first started hitting the festivals and a Frames album a few months later). Assuming it survives the scrutiny it’ll probably be the front-runner. Can any song from Enchanted match its emotion or so perfectly set the tone for the film?

A friend of mine said she was very disappointed with the ending. We all want the payoff of our two heroes consummating their love, but the real world isn’t always that way and this film isn’t either. Her husband comes to join her in Ireland, he goes off to London to chase the ex-girlfriend who cheated on him. Do either of these relationships have the potential that the two of them have together? Probably not; she’s very young and has already broken it off with her husband and moved across the continent once, his attachment to his ex and the way he follows her like a sad puppy is a little pitiful. But real-world complications affect this pair in ways that they usually do not in the movies. Lots of relationships like this would end very similarly in real life. It’s a story of two people meeting at a specific time of their lives, then moving on. I think the ambiguity of their relationship makes Once more real- and also more special.

And, with that in mind, doesn’t that make Once such a perfect title for this film?

Update: The Carpetbagger is reporting that the music branch has officially deemed “Falling Slowly” eligible.