The headline is really just an excuse to write about one of the most entertaining movies I have seen in a long time on my ostensibly political blog. The short version of this post is simple: if you’re in Helena, go see "Once" this week at the Myrna Loy before it leaves town. You absolutely won’t regret it.
It’s an amazing film. Shot for $160,000, less than the hair care budget of a Hollywood film, the movie make not have the perfect sheen of a Hollywood film, but that’s a huge part of its charm. At times, it looks like it was filmed by film students, not because of the quality of the direction, but the nature of the equipment. It’s the antithesis of a Hollywood romantic film, rough-hewn and not always obvious.
The point isn’t that the film is independent, though. There are a lot of terrible independent and some terrific Hollywood films. What makes this film so exceptional is how authentic its characters and situations seem. In some ways, the inexperience of the leads (known only as the guy and the girl) only makes it seem more believable. They have the awkward expressions and pauses that real people experience, combined with a kind of beauty that only real relationships have, too. Towards the end of the film, there is a scene between the guy and his father that elicited little gasps from the small audience at my screening, not because swelling music told the audience what to feel, but because the father’s speech managed to be totally unexpected at the same time it was the only thing he could possibly say. "Once" is that kind of movie.
Incidentally, it’s a musical. But what a musical. Because the characters are musicians, the film doesn’t have any of those jarring transitions between spoken dialogue and singing that make watching traditional musicals almost unbearable. Here, the songs flow from the characters and the situations they find themselves in, so the transition feels seamless. "Falling Slowly" and "Say It To Me Now" are the standouts, but the whole soundtrack is exceptional, both raw in its emotion and sweet in its sentiment.
As for the ratings system, it couldn’t be any more ridiculous than it is in the case of this film. It’s not often that I would use the word "sweet" in any other way than ironic, but it’s the only way to describe the relationships shown in this film. The characters do, on occasion, use the dreaded F-WORD. It turns out that real people do, too. I just can’t imagine a group of people watching this movie and concluding that teenagers might be damaged by a viewing, especially when you consider a film like "Live Free or Die Hard" received a PG-13 rating, despite some incredibly violent scenes. Are we really more traumatized by a bit of profanity than a lot of violence?