Even the uninitiated will be hard-pressed to resist the movie's charms, from its likable leading players and its charming Dublin setting to its wistful take on modern love.
Once isn't especially complex, but the chemistry between its appealing leads feels deeply true. You'd have to look awfully hard to find such sincerity in a Hollywood romance.
Stripped of just about all artifice and dazzle, shot on the cheap on city streets, this Sundance gem is wiser about artistic creation and the fickle ways of love than any song-and-dance spectacular you've recently encountered.
For reasons they'll have to go to hell for someday, the Motion Picture Association of America ratings board gave Once an R, for a handful of swear words. Ignore that. And enjoy the film.
The songs don't advance the narrative lyrically so much as follow the two characters' uncertain relationship through the slow realization of their themes; in particular a scene in which they first jam together in the back room of a music store is a gem.
Told with the simplicity of a Chaplin film (more than once I was reminded of City Lights), Once has the tentative and unpredictable amble of a chance encounter rather than the absolute and overdetermined structure of a Hollywood film.
Given [director] Carney's roughshod methods, Once never resembles a standard studio offering, which works much to its benefit. Between Carney's unadorned writing and his rustic directing approach, Once always remains grounded in reality.
Pic's charm seems so offhand one might not notice the skill with which helmer John Carney pulls it off, or how it plays like a full-blown musical without anyone bursting into song.