"Doesn’t seem worth leaving the pub for." | Photo: Searchlight

I could never quite understand why Once got an Oscar for its music. But having missed it first time round, I thought it would be a nice relaxing Sunday night movie. Now, although it has a certain magic if you don’t find the music irritating, that’s a big “if”, as the music plays almost throughout.

Bearded busker-of-no-name (incredibly talented), meets sweet little Big Issue babe-of-no-name (also incredibly talented). They bond incredibly over his incredibly mournful songs lamenting the incredible departure of his last incredible girlfriend. Can I tell you a secret? The film lies. She left to get some peace and quiet.

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Our opening few minutes has busker boy singing his heart out. You can predict the moment she will arrive almost to the second. The rest of the movie is fairly unpredictable (largely because nothing happens.) When you’ve seen the junkie try to steal something, you’ve seen the best bit. From there on, it’s gooey painting-by-numbers that never gets properly started, much less finished.

We fast-segue into urban folk-tale mode: the penniless pair put together a band of street musicians and get a recording studio for a mere 2,000 Euros. The acting is okay. But if it beat Enchanted on song, it sure loses out on fairy-tale. Its script is appalling (the story is impossible to believe and most dialogue is replaced with music, or with Issue-babe staring dreamily at busker-boy, asking adoringly about his dismal past relationship). The songs nearly put me off my tea, even if the couple are indeed quite talented. Mournful, melancholy brooding folksy is not my bag. Some short a capella and more relaxing songs in a Dublin folk club provide a more pleasurable interlude. But too short. Then there are some nice shots of the countryside near Dublin. And a believable chemistry between these upmarket bottom-of-the-heapers. If only she might snog him, I think, just to shut him up. But then his songs keep going in the background even when his mouth is occupied. Relentlessly. So such plot development seems pointless.

As films of improbable musician meet-ups go, Once had me longing for the unpretentiously cheesy (and under-rated) Music And Lyrics. Which at least had the decency not to take itself so damn seriously.

Busker boy is played by Glen Hansard of The Frames , so if you are fan, this is good value. If you’re not, it’s maybe worth downloading a track from the film before deciding. There’s an awful lot of the same. The film could almost be called the cheapo album video. His voice has lots of gusto. Passing him on the subway, it would be refreshing. Stuck waiting for a bus with him in the background might be wearing.

I am supposed to say it is sweet and tender and stuff like that. It’s not. It’s about two pathologically messed-up people who don’t have the courage to move on. There’s a nice bit of Irish charm that plays especially well in the States (From a budget of $150,000, it grossed almost $17 million). For me, I’m sad to say there was not enough charm for to dispel the queasiness.

A brilliant low-budget effort, but the repetitive songs are not charismatic enough to warrant more than a 20 minute short. Once is cheesy love-on-the-poverty-line. Cut-price cheese, the sort with lots of milk and fat. Passing itself off as indie-made, quality pizza. As much as you can eat for 85 minutes. Please don’t choke. I admit that many people must have enjoyed it, which I don’t understand. Unless you like being sucked in by such mush, it doesn’t seem worth leaving the pub for. You could be enjoying a nice pint of Guinness instead. Or two...

Reviewed on: 07 Jul 2008
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Once packshot
Guy meets Girl and makes beautiful - and Oscar-winning - music with her.
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Read more Once reviews:

The Exile *****
Amber Wilkinson ***1/2

Director: John Carney

Writer: John Carney, with music by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová

Starring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, Hugh Walsh, Gerry Hendrick, Alastair Foley, Geoff Minogue, Bill Hodnett, Danuse Ktrestova

Year: 2006

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Ireland

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