Thursday, 11 September 2014

Theatre Reminiscence: The Light Princess, one year on (or, Levity Forever)




“Gravity, are you feeling?” Time flies. Or floats. It’s hard for those of us who loved it to believe that it’s almost a year already since The Light Princess, Samuel Adamson and Tori Amos’s “edible, delectable” musical, directed by Marianne Elliott, opened at the National Theatre. Readers of this blog won’t be at all surprised to learn that that first preview of the show remains, to paraphrase Carole Zucker, one of my “‘great evenings of theatre’ where one truly feels one has witnessed something important, fresh and even heroic.” Mostly, I remember feeling overwhelmed that night: by how much there was to explore, both aurally and visually, in the piece, by all the emotions that the show stirred up. The show felt totally fresh, surprising, unlike anything I’d seen before.  And yet, as with much of the art that’s affected me deeply, there was also a strange sense of familiarity to the experience too, a comforting recognition. As my friend Vicki Clark, who saw the show more than twenty (count ‘em) times, recalls, of that first preview: “The opening bars of 'My Own Land' sent shivers down my spine. I knew from that moment, and that dramatic, bold refrain, that I was going to love the show.”

Not quite equalling Vicki’s awesome tally (or that of my friend Erin Quilliam who “lost count” a bit but estimates that she went to the show more than sixteen times), I saw The Light Princess ten times in total: sometimes with family, friends, or my lover, and sometimes alone. In many ways it defined that period, September 2013 to February 2014, for me, to the extent that I recall various events of that time - whether joyful or sorrowful - through its prism. I made friends through the show, argued with people about it (online and in the real world), learnt the songs and sung them all over the place. Each of those ten visits has a different flavour and texture, as I recall them. The second time was about really beginning to appreciate the music, in all its richness and complexity, and starting to see just how intricate and densely patterned the score that Amos and Adamson had created was, and how integrated with the characters’ struggles and transformations. On subsequent visits I started to observe the work of the acrobats more and more and to really be captivated by the strange, beautiful ballet that their contributions, choreographed by Steven Hoggett, made the show into.

 
 
Always, always there seemed something new to notice: whether a detail in Rae Smith’s design, a previously overlooked aspect of a performance, or the brilliantly immersive build of the lengthy sequences “Queen Material” and “Nothing More Than This.”  Cherished individual moments such as Althea’s cry of “I can’t stand my own land!”, the sheer gleeful exuberance of “Better Than Good”, the operatic ache of the wrenching “No H2O” (which both Vicki and Erin single out as their favourite moment in the show), Nick Hendrix as Digby joyfully rising from the ground with his airborne lover in “Althea”, Laura Pitt-Pulford’s shimmering cameos,  Malinda Parris’s sublime “Scandal” moment, the "suitors" scene, Althea’s chilling reclamation at the end of “Queen of the Lake”, Clive Rowe’s fearsome bellow of “I am King, King of you all” … these gradually gave way to other moments, until ultimately what you were responding to wasn’t so much individual lines or sequences, but rather the whole thing: the gestalt of the show. 
 
 


 

It was fascinating, too, to see the diverse reactions of those I’d come with, or those around me, from the enthusiasm of an elderly woman next to me who loved the show so much that she vowed to return to it with her husband the very next night to an American tourist’s po-faced interval comment: “This is very, very weird.” My friend Adam, on his third visit to the show, wrote me: “I still have the image in my head of a woman with tears in her eyes at the end, shouting to her girlfriends: ‘OH MY GOD! THAT WAS UNBELIEVABLE!!’”
Aside from the first preview, my own most memorable encounter with The Light Princess was an impromptu visit I made to a Sunday matinee performance on December 1st, following one of those crushingly miserable evenings that you’re not sure you’ll ever quite recover from. I stayed out in the city all night, found myself Southbankside in the morning and ended up day-seating the show. (In what turned out to be pretty much the coolest-ever day-seating queue.) In my emotional state, the impact of the show was staggering.  I remember feeling embraced, comforted, energised and inspired by the images, voices and melodies, and feeling that, though massive changes had to be made, everything would be OK after all, if I could just summon the courage to face it. If I ever need reminding of the power of art to help and heal then I only have to think back on that strange weekend when pretty much everything I’d hoped for fell apart, only to be redeemed and restored in this unexpected way. 
It’s not every show that could withstand so many visits in such a short span of time, of course. But the richness of The Light Princess - and how all-of-a-piece the show felt despite the very many different elements in its composition - was part of what made it so special. (And it’s worth pausing briefly to remember that there were quite a number of people who really, really did not like the show, but let’s not linger over those stupid cunts misguided souls here.)  For all the fierceness of the show’s critique of patriarchy, it’s a work of rare generosity of spirit, a show without cynicism, and one possessed of an openness that really allowed and encouraged you to find your own way into it. As Erin comments: “There were so many different ways you could react, and the show was left almost entirely for your own interpretation. So you felt and found different things each time.”

“We hope that women, men, of all ages, all sexualities, all races, and different experiences relate to our piece,” Amos said at the Platform that she and Adamson did together in October. “Because really the idea of Althea and Digby is that they’re responding differently to a tragedy [the death of their mothers]. And we all respond differently, don’t we? And sometimes we’re judged for the way that we respond or the way that we are… So we wanted our story to resonate with all kinds of situations and with all kinds of people from different backgrounds.” 
 



Part of the impact of the show, I think, was that the parallel arcs of those two protagonists - Althea towards gravity, Digby towards levity; he learning the value of rebelliousness; she becoming “responsible” on her own terms  - tapped into something archetypal and profound about the human condition, and about the balance required in human affairs. (Just as every good fairy-tale should.)  “I related to the show a lot, especially to the character of Althea,” Vicki tells me. “I think most young women my age will have been in a situation where they feel like they don't fit in for some reason or another, or have had their own issues to cope with, much like Althea's lack of gravity. Seeing her eventually overcoming her struggle in her own way, in her own time, was reassuring to watch.” Erin identifies the relationship between Althea and Piper (Amy Booth-Steel) as one of the main things she connected to in the show.  “I saw so much of myself and my best friend in those characters. (Though I don’t have to keep hold of her ribbons, thankfully.)”
For me, the show’s exploration of escapism was its most relatable – and surprising – element. Adding an entirely new psychological dimension to the original MacDonald story, Amos and Adamson made their Light Princess very much a work about the strategies we employ to deal with loss, pain and grief. “The air didn’t have shadows and nor does this place,” Althea tells Digby in the lake, having traded the air for Amphibiava, one safe space for another. The arc that Adamson and Amos devise for Althea is all about her overcoming her need for such comfort zones, as she opens up to love (with all its challenges and complexities) and faces up to the darkness in her world rather than trying to escape it. 
 


 
It was a journey that Rosalie Craig’s radiant performance illuminated at every stage, as her Althea metamorphosed from gloriously truculent (though obviously damaged) teen to victimised bride-to-be, ardent romantic heroine and dragon-slaying warrior to gracious womanly presence. What was amazing for those of us who saw the show multiple times was not only the apparent effortlessness with which Craig negotiated the singular physical demands of the role (including singing upside town, twirled around, and, during “My Fairy Story,” with a foot in her crotch) but the risks that she took in it. Every single performance (and the actress missed nary a one during the show’s entire run)  seemed utterly new-minted, spontaneous and  in-the-moment, so much so that a line like “I am the last of the Darcys” might be delivered in an airy defiant whisper at one show and then shouted as a triumphant declaration at the next. As Sam commented in the last interview we did: “She seems constantly to be reinventing herself and the role.”
There was still much more exploration to be done with The Light Princess, one feels: for audiences and actors alike. And the fact that the show got its extension at the NT but didn’t get the West End transfer that many of us hoped for makes the whole experience incredibly special and incredibly bittersweet.  Each to their own and all that, but I can’t help but feel annoyed that a piece of cobbled-together, Broadway-by-numbers tat like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels finds a life in the West End while a show as challenging, inventive and carefully crafted as The Light Princess doesn’t.  Reminiscing about that final show on February 2nd, Vicki recalls “a lot of tears, mainly! But I'll never forget that day. I was so sad to say goodbye to The Light Princess but the audience was full of people who had mainly seen the show before, and it was like a big family. The cast were on top form as always and it was so moving to see them just as sad about it closing as we were! If I could have spoken to the cast, Tori and Sam collectively, I'd love them to know how happy they'd made so many people with their work. I've never felt so excited or attached to a piece of theatre before, and I doubt I will again. (Until it's revived, obviously!)”
 
It’s a happy thought that the release of the cast recording (scheduled for 2015) will be the next step on the journey of The Light Princess, offering those of us who loved the show the chance to revisit - and those who missed it the opportunity to discover - all the characters and emotions brought to life so vividly in a wilderness of emerald, and kingdoms gold and blue.




 

 
 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Theatre Review: The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd (Orange Tree)

Ellie Piercy in The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd (Credit: Mark Douet)

A 7.30 start-time, numbered seating, a fresh paint job in the auditorium, new wines on offer at the bar: yep, the superficial signs of a new era at the Orange Tree are there to see pretty much as soon as you enter the theatre. And yet, taking over following Sam Walters’s amazing forty-five year artistic directorship of the venue, Paul Miller has opted to open his first season with a show that deliberately suggests continuity with Walters’s reign rather than a clear break with it.
 
By coincidence, in fact, Walters’s production of D. H. Lawrence’s 1912 play The Daughter-in-Law was the very first thing that I saw at the OT back in 2001, while Miller himself directed a well-regarded production of the  play at the Crucible in Sheffield just last year. Now, the director turns his attention to Lawrence’s 1914 work, The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd. And, boasting wonderful attention to detail and an outstanding cast, it’s hard to imagine seeing this play served better than it is in the special, in-the-round intimacy of the Orange Tree.
 
Mining-focused dramas seem to be quite the rage at present, with the likes of Beth Steel's Wonderland, Chris Urch's just-transferred Land of Our Fathers  and Matthew Warchus’s much-hyped (and, in my opinion, execrable-looking) film Pride providing an interesting cultural context for another look at Lawrence’s theatre. And yet, as crucial as the pit backdrop is to The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd (particularly in the play’s wrenching second half), the piece is, essentially, a thoroughly domestic drama focusing upon “a devilish married life.” (The phrase is one used by Lawrence in a 1910 letter describing his parents’ own unblissful union.)
 
Gyuri Sarossy in The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd (Credit: Mark Douet)
 
Lizzie Holroyd is a harried 32-year-old mother of two suffering at the hands of a volatile spouse, Charles, who returns home in his cups most nights, on one occasion bringing “two trollops from Nottingham” (splendidly rendered by Heather Johnson and Maggie O’Brien here) with him. This incident seems to prove the last straw for Lizzie. But the protagonist’s resolve to leave her husband and get out of “this hole [where] every gossiping creature thinks she’s got the right to cackle about you” presents her with more of a moral conundrum than you might imagine.  

Though the play is not without humour, Lawrence doesn’t balk at pulling the viewer directly into a brutally unhappy marital situation. And what I admire in Miller’s production is its determined, honest refusal to sweeten the pill.  Aided by John Harris’s atmospheric lighting and Terry Davies’s mournful horn score, the production conveys the complexities of a dysfunctional relationship forged through convenience and filled with disgust and contempt, but also dependency and a kind of love. The confrontations are raw and intense, and Lawrence’s language rough and gnarled, though not without its beautiful, lyrical and rhythmic qualities.   


Ellie Piercy and Jordan Mifsud in The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd (Credit: Mark Douet) 

The cast deliver that language superbly. Ellie Piercy’s captivating Lizzie is a mass of contradictions and Piercy brilliantly keeps us alert to every shade of uncertainty and resolve, guilt and grief, humiliation and hope, that the character experiences. She’s supported by beautiful work from Jordan Mifsud as the concerned young miner who offers Lizzie an escape route, and by a stunning performance from  Polly Hemingway (a dead ringer for Rachel Roberts here) as the mother-in-law who’s seen most of her menfolk perish in pit accidents and who sides with her son over his spouse (“He should never have married a clever woman”) even while acknowledging his flaws. And while, as Charles, the relatively lean Gyuri Sarossy isn’t the outsize masculine figure evoked by the other characters’ descriptions, the actor’s gruff, thickly-accented delivery helps to make a bold, powerfully physical impression.

The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd isn’t perfect in its construction: not all of the characters are fully drawn, and the ending is abrupt (the play seems to be missing a final scene). And the drama certainly doesn’t develop in a way to please the sensibilities of a modern audience. But, even so, this sensitive and beautifully judged production makes for a terrific start to Miller’s tenure at the Orange Tree.


Running time: 2 hours, with interval.
 
The production is booking until 4th October. Further information at the Orange Tree website.

 

Film Reviews: B For Boy (Anadu, 2013) / Mother of George (Dosunmu, 2013)


I'm happy to see that Chika Anadu's B For Boy and Andrew Dosunmu's Mother of George will be screening in the BFI "African Odysseys: Beyond Nollywood" series this month. (Details here.) My reviews of both films are below.

B For Boy



At a time when English language cinema can hardly be said to be providing great opportunities for female filmmakers or to be paying much attention to the telling of women's stories, it's heartening to find "world" cinema moving in the opposite direction and frequently focusing its gaze upon female characters compromised and challenged by patriarchal cultures. One of the under-sung highlights of the 2012 London Film Festival was Jeremy Teicher's Tall as a Baobab Tree, in which a teenage girl in Senegal tries to prevent her younger sister's financially-motivated arranged marriage. And last year Haifaa Al Mansour's much-acclaimed Wadjda spun from its portrayal of a young girl's desire for a bicycle a wider portrait of women's position in Saudi society.

B For Boy feels very much like a companion piece to both movies (and also to Andrew Dosunmu's similarly-themed Mother of George [see below], which also screened in last year's LFF) with loaded subject matter once again presented through a low-key, relatable, realist framework that draws the viewer into its protagonist's dilemma without recourse to speech-making or histrionics.
 
Chika Anadu's expertly-handled debut feature follows Amaka (Uche Nwadili), a pregnant middle-class Nigerian woman who's married to Nonso (Nonso Odogwu) with whom she has one daughter, Ijeoma. Under pressure to produce a male child this time — especially from her mother-in-law who reminds her that 'You've been married eight years and only have a daughter' — and threatened by the possibility that Nonso may be considering taking a second wife, Amaka is thrilled when she's given the news that she is indeed pregnant with a son. But when she ends up losing the child, she resorts to desperate measures, keeping the stillbirth a secret from Nonso and investigating the possibility of adopting a baby to pass off as her own.
 
Anadu's approach is wonderfully confident and clear-sighted. Giving the movie a spare, clean, uncluttered look that allows the viewer to focus on the characters' interactions without distraction, she uses each encounter that Amaka has — whether with Nonso, with her mother-in-law, her friends, or female healthcare professionals — to present a fresh perspective on the situation and to give texture to the drama.
 
The contrast between Nonso and Amaka's middle-class, professional life and the village life and customs of their relatives is subtly drawn and the humanity of the film is evident in its treatment of Nonso as a character: no mere representative of patriarchal oppression, he's actually a quiet and considerate man who also feels rather worn down by his family's complaints and demands. But Anadu is certainly unsparing in showing women's collusion in patriarchy. This is evident not only in the traditional attitudes of Amaka's mother-in-law, who's motivated by a desire to have her 'husband's name live on',  but also in a chilling sequence in which a group of women, stirred by the rhetoric of a fire-and-brimstone preacher, take it upon themselves to denounce Amaka as a witch. 
 
The movie benefits from assured performances from its cast but special mention must go to Uche Nwadili in the lead role. Nwadili has such a strong presence that Amaka never seems a mere hapless victim of events; cool on the surface, she keeps us attuned to the characters' turbulent thoughts and feelings all the time. By the wrenching final scenes, in which Amaka is driven to an action that we really, really hope she won't undertake, B For Boy has built up a Dardenne-esque level of dramatic intensity. Dedicated simply to 'mothers', it's a terrific debut from a talented young filmmaker. 
 
 
Mother of George
 
Dosunmu's Mother of George — the director's second feature following the acclaimed Restless City — explores startlingly similar territory to B For Boy. Just like Anadu's film, Dosunmu's movie is also concerned with the pressure placed upon a Nigerian woman to please and placate her family by conceiving a male child. In this case, the protagonist, Adenike (Danai Gurira, of TV's The Walking Dead), is an immigrant living amongst New York's Yoruba community, but facing similar demands as Anadu's protagonist does in Nigeria. As Adenike submits to the pressure exerted by her mother-in-law, and takes drastic steps to ensure a pregnancy, Mother of George and B For Boy establish themselves as companion pieces, with some similar scenes and characters in common. However, the stylistic approach of the two films could hardly be more different.  
 
Where Anadu opts for a straightforward, clear shooting style, in which we're always certain what and who is in the frame and what their relationship to one another is, Dosunmu goes in the opposite direction, giving his movie an extremely distinctive look and atmosphere that conveys an immigrant's experience in a highly stylised manner and which clearly exhibits the influence of the director's background in music video.
 
Bradley Young's cinematography eschews obvious New York landmarks entirely. Instead, the camera glides and floats around the characters (who are often reduced to body parts), coming to rest in unexpected places. Angles and editing are off-kilter; the shots frequently focus on the face of the character speaking while completely obscuring the person being addressed. The whole look is blurry, gauzy with a distinctive colour palette, creating a dreamy, soft-focused texture. Moving through the city or the house, the harried yet graceful Gurira is often shot slow-mo, recalling Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love. Indeed, Dosunmu's abstract style sometimes suggests a merging of Wong's work with that of Claire Denis – right down to the casting of one of the latter's regular collaborators, Isaach de BankolĂ©, as Adenike's spouse Ayodele.
 
The director's idiosyncratic approach has its strengths and its drawbacks. On the one hand it provides the movie with a wonderfully suggestive, sensual ambience that keeps the viewer intrigued throughout. On the other it means that the characters don't fully emerge and that the film lacks the narrative drive of B For Boy. Doubtless Dosunmu would argue that that's not what he's going for here, but once melodramatic revelations start coming to light in the second half the film stutters, since the groundwork hasn't quite been laid for this shift. The observations made about women's position in a patriarchal society do come through, but in a muted way; ultimately, Adenike's dilemma feels distanced and the climax lacks impact.
 
Nonetheless, Mother of George is a striking piece of work and one that will likely reward repeat viewings. The extent to which its style serves its subject matter is debatable, but there's no denying the power of Dosunmu and Young's exquisitely composed images to linger in the mind.        

 

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Theatre Review: Daytona (Richmond, & tour)





My review of David Grindley's production of Oliver Cotton's play Daytona is up at British Theatre Guide. You can read it here.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Film Review: Blackwood (Wimpenny, 2013)

 
 
 
Films that go bump... In Blackwood, the debut feature by British director Adam Wimpenny, Ed Stoppard plays Ben Marshall, a lecturer not long recovered from a breakdown, who moves with his brood – wife Rachel (Sophia Myles) and son Harry (Isaac Andrews) — to a remote country house in order to take up a new teaching post and give the family a fresh start.


But it’s not long before Ben starts sensing that something is wrong in the house beyond its clanking pipes and messy leaks. He starts being plagued by visions that seem to relate to previous occupants and that suggest that his family might be under threat. Are the visions real? Or could it be that the doctor is cracking up again?
 
With its strong, theatre-schooled British cast, Blackwood is the kind of film one feels well-disposed towards. And though generic and familiar from the off, it has some intriguing aspects that sustain interest for a while. Indeed, the movie begins promisingly enough, with pleasing forebodings and some well-orchestrated moments of menace. Wimpenny and screenwriter J.S. Hill also prove quite adept at sketching out tense, believable family dynamics: there’s nice work from Stoppard and Myles in these early scenes and engaging stuff from Russell Tovey – as a former soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – and from Greg Wise (last seen bopping his way through the likeable Walking on Sunshine), as a colleague of Ben’s with designs on Rachel.

Alas, as the movie progresses, it loses the semblance of intelligence it started out with, succumbing to increasingly nonsensical plot developments. Careless in its handling of minor characters (such as Joanna Vanderham as a PhD student who is the new squeeze of Wise’s character), the movie finally stretches credibility to breaking point. What begins as a Woman in Black/Amityville Horror/Don’t Look Now hybrid (with a touch of The Turn of the Screw and even Kill List on the side) finally degenerates into a risible rip-off of The Shining, complete with histrionic performances and an unnecessarily blood-soaked climax. There’s certainly enough promise in the early sections to suggest that Wimpenny might yet make a worthwhile feature but his resolution of Blackwood proves feeble in the extreme.
 
Blackwood is released in the UK on 1st August.
 



Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Theatre Review: Medea (National Theatre, Olivier)




As Lucy Jackson has summarised recently, the myth of Medea is one that continues to resonate and reverberate powerfully in our culture, inspiring fresh revisionings in literature, art, film and on stage. That said, the 2012 incarnation of Euripides’s text - Mike Bartlett’s soap-opera-verging-on-sitcom variation for Headlong, which set the story in a contemporary English suburb  - struck me as mostly ridiculous, despite the committed efforts of Rachael Stirling in the lead.

Carrie Cracknell’s major new production for the National, which had its first preview on Monday, proves a much more assured, arresting and absorbing experience than Headlong’s. (This, despite the coughers, over-laughers and people who had certainly NOT switched off their fucking mobile phones who sadly constituted some of the first performance’s audience.) It’s a potent new version that - in aspects of its aesthetic as well as its overt, bracing feminism - feels all-of-a-piece with Cracknell’s recent projects: her much-admired A Doll’s House for the Young Vic and this year’s Blurred Lines at the NT Shed.  I don’t want to comment too specifically on the staging at this early point in the run, so as not to spoil the pleasure of discovery for others. But suffice it to say that Cracknell and Ben Power (who contributes a supple, fluid and robust translation) succeed in finding a contemporary context for the story that (unlike Bartlett’s) doesn’t make you cringe, that still allows for grandeur, and that cuts to the dark heart of the play’s exploration of the damage wrought by betrayed and thwarted love. Tom Scutt’s design - initially underwhelming; gradually revelatory - captures  precisely the production’s mixture of the intimate and the epic, the feral and the domestic. As does the score by Goldfrapp (a band whose charms have mostly been lost on me, I have to confess), who come through here with a series of evocative soundscapes that move compellingly from twinkling atmospherics to swelling choral surge.  
The production won’t be as divisive as the National’s spectacularly polarising Edward II was last summer, but it’s still one that audiences will debate and argue over, I think. There are, it must be said, some odd aspects: the under-utilising of Dominic Rowan as Aegeus , for one.  And while the all-female Chorus is a marvellous touch, and mostly brilliantly integrated, I could have lived without the Pan’s-People-via-Pina-Baush contortions that Lucy Guerin’s choreography puts them through at various points. 
Still, the production grips and moves. And at its centre is a performance by Helen McCrory that is as thrillingly rich and inspired as you could wish for.  Fierce yet fragile, bitingly witty and savage in self-laceration, the captivating McCrory shrinks the auditorium to intimacy as she also finds a devastating vulnerability and, yes, tenderness in the character, honouring all the contradictions of a woman turned “expert in terror, expert in pain.”  It is, already, a performance to haunt you, and one that, in the production’s stunning final third, communicates the play’s tragedy with the force of a thunderclap.

The production runs for 1 hour 40 minutes without interval. Booking until September 4th. http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/medea?dates=all#tabpos 


  

Monday, 14 July 2014

Film Review: Begin Again (Carney, 2013)







John Carney's Begin Again offers more winsome (if tediously foul-mouthed) music-based uplift in the mould of the director’s overpraised Once, though decidedly glossier and with the dubious added bonus of Keira Knightley grimacing and gurning away in one of the lead roles. Knightley plays—or, in her usual manner, has a game go at playing—Greta, an English girl in New York who gets dumped by her musician boyfriend (Adam Levine, of Maroon 5, in a creditable film debut) and finds herself dragged along to an open mic night where she’s talent spotted by Dan (Mark Ruffalo) a down-on-his-luck music exec who hearspotential in her fey folky warblings. The film follows the pair as they collaborate on an album, its tracks recorded live in different locations in the city.


Carney can be insightful on music biz machinations and these aspects provide some of the more interesting elements of the picture. But Begin Again (which was called Can A Song Save Your Life? when I saw it at TIFF last year, and I’m not sure how much of an improvement the new title can be considered) is ultimately too transparent in its feel-good designs upon the audience and too clumpy in its plotting. It’s the kind of movie in which everything is on the surface, every emotional beat underlined and made obvious. Greta starts meddling in Dan’s personal life just so the pair can have a little spat but ultimately the movie is all about relationships getting repaired—lives being saved, indeed—by the healing power of song. That could work, were the featured tracks, written by the formerly-witty Gregg Alexander, not such bland affairs (just as they were in Once)—folk-influenced pop full of would-be poetic musings, and as forgettable as the film’s title. In addition, for all the wittering about artistic integrity and “authenticity” that goes on here, the movie itself feels mighty inauthentic: when the characters are in a tight spot, for example, they simply call on a beneficent multi-millionaire hip-hop star (Cee-Lo Green) to help them out.
 
Catherine Keener and Hailie Steinfeld go to waste as Ruffalo’s estranged wife and kid, but Ruffalo himself brings some rumpled charisma to his role and James Corden does some pleasantly relaxed funny-buddy schtick as Greta’s busker pal. The movie is undistinguished, and I found it resistible (much more so than the superficially crummier Walking on Sunshine; see below). But it probably pushes enough buttons to turn itself into a hit.