Once represents everything I like and dislike about the singer/songwriter cult. The music was great, at times moving, at other times catchy, and frequently a little bit of both. Both Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, especially Irglova, are charming in their own rights. But none of this makes Once an especially good movie or film experience.

I found Once to be slow and plodding whenever music wasn’t a part of the action. The first 20 minutes or so took too long to get going, although once Irglova came into the picture, the film’s prospects brightened. She had a certain glow about her, kind of like Amanda Bynes’ inexplicable appeal, that was engaging.

But even then, I interpreted Once as a series of cool music videos about the interplay between writer and artist. Any movie that plays better in two or three YouTube clips can’t be a very good movie, and Once is a good example of that. This scene, in the recording studio, captures the magic of the creative process that so few films have failed at doing (Ratatouille comes to mind). But without a strong narrative structure to bind all these great clips together, Once falters as a cohesive movie.

 


And I already saw a better, funnier, and more entertaining movie earlier this year about the same themes: Music and Lyrics. I’ll leave it to others (Jared? John?) to debate whether “Falling Slowly” is a better song than “Way Back Into Love,” although clearly the Academy favors the former. As a movie, though, I’d much rather re-watch Music and Lyrics than Once.

And the pretenses behind the musical genres represented by those two movies (Pop and FolkRock(?)) are in part of what I disliked about Once. My Tufts friends Jeff and Suzanne would kill me over this, but too much of the singer/songwriter movement is wrapped up in so much self-love about the purity of being a singer/songwriter. Whereas pop music, as represented by the “dinner” and “dessert” of “Way Back Into Love,” understands that there’s a way to meld a commercial sensibility with musical greatness. Wow…that was way too much music analysis, especially for me. Rip that one to shreds, Jared.

 

As for the Oscar…it’s going to be a close race between “Falling Slowly” and “That’s How You Know” from Enchanted. I’ll be a full-throated supporter of the Once song, because it is the best part of the whole movie and in compressed time, tells the story about Guy and Girl, but the Enchanted musical tour-de-force will be strong competition. Since I’m the only one who saw Enchanted…I’ll fill you in that “That’s How You Know” is ALSO the best part of the whole movie – but musically and lyrically, it doesn’t add up.

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