The unexpected indie sleeper of last year, and an acclaimed winner at Sundance, Once is a warm-spirited little tale of two people brought together by their shared love of music.
He – simply billed as The Guy – is a busker on the streets of Dublin (played by real-life musician and The Commitments actor Glen Hansard. She – The Girl – is a Czech immigrant (Markéta Irglová, making her screen debut), a classically trained pianist who now sells roses and The Big Issue. She likes his music, he likes her, they raise some cash from a sympathetic bank manager and record some of The Guy’s songs. He makes a tentative pass, but her estranged husband has shown up from Prague. So she sends The Guy off with his demo disc to seek his fortune in London…
And that, in terms of plot, is about it. Made by writer/director John Carney for around £60,000, with Hansard stepping into the lead role after Cillian Murphy dropped out, Once gets by on sweetness, simplicity and a welcome avoidance of narrative cliché.
Hansard and Irglová both come across as likeable, without an ounce of Hollywood glamour, and the use of the grimier side of Dublin adds an unthreatening realism. A lot of the film’s modest running time – 84 minutes – is taken up with Hansard’s melancholic indie rock (the lead actors each furnished their own music), so if you find that kind of thing a tad monotonous you may feel like reaching for the fast-forward. But it’s worth going the distance with the cheery extras, especially a commentary that sees the leads re-spark their on-screen chemistry.