I finally got around to seeing Once, and I’ve got to say it lived up to the hype. Perhaps “hype” is the wrong word. Yes, the little Irish indie, filmed on a meager (by Hollywood standards) $100K budget, garners a whopping 97% Rotten Tomato rating. The movie also made lots of year end “Best” lists, like Roger Ebert’s. But, despite the accolades, I don’t personally know a single person who’s seen it.
I’m guessing there’s a couple reasons for this.
Yes, it is a bit hard to classify. When CD asked me what it was about, I instinctively mentioned “Musical,” to which he promptly responded by curling his nose. But while music comprises probably 3/4 of this film, it’s hardly a musical in the sense of Chicago or Sweeney Todd. The dialog could also be a problem for American audiences. I mean, I had to strain to filter the Irish and Slavic dialects of the two main characters. Nevertheless, the dialog is minimal and does not affect the interpretation of the song lyrics. (I never got how someone with a heavy accent can SING in good English.)
The strengths of this movie pivot on the quality of the songs, the likability of the characters, and the simplicity of the story. I found myself humming many of the tunes into the next day. (And yes, Lisa, I rushed out and purchased the soundtrack yesterday!) There is cursing (the movie is rated R). But in Ireland, the dreaded F-word is a part of casual conversation, kind of like the word “so” or “anyway” is here. But it is the unfolding of the character’s stories — almost entirely through their music — and the bond that music holds in their lives and community that makes Once so touching.
Yeah, the song Falling Slowly won the Academy Award — one of the rare times a genuinely great song has received the statuette. But it’s just one part of a very, very good movie.