Case in point - the movie "Once". As soon as this had been released on DVD, I rented it and watched it. I didn't know much about it other than it was supposed to be really amazing. I hate when someone tells me that about a film too because the key to happiness, I swear, is lowered expectations. After I watched this, I was like, wot? There was hardly any plot, the film looks like it was filmed in a day by an amateur and if there was a script it had to be a two page one because most of it was just music. Really good music, but still, music. Without plot. Which, I find a plot, you know, usually necessary. Especially in a movie.
Fast-forward 8 months later and I came across this film again. If you haven't seen it, it is about a Czech girl and an Irish guy in Ireland. The guy, played by Glen Hansard, has kinda stalled in life and needs someone to give him a little push. The girl, played by Marketa Irglova, is the one who comes along to supply said push. That really is the entire plot of the movie.
Please keep in mind this is a REALLY independent film. By that, I mean, we are talking a budget of $150,000 and 17 days to shoot this. There are some shaky shots and while you watch it you are definitely aware that you are watching a really low-budget film. However, I think that is part of the charm of this. No studio would have ever let this film fly if they didn't stay SERIOUSLY under the radar - which was the filmmaker's strategy from the beginning with the ridiculously low budget.
So what makes it worth watching? The idea behind the film was to make a modern day musical for younger audiences. They didn't think actors breaking out into song would work on a young audience so they wove the music into what the movie was about. And the music alone is beautiful, moving and powerful. In fact, one of the songs from the movie won an Oscar. Then you add the main characters into the movie. The filmmaker wanted to make it all about the music so he decided to hire musicians instead of actors. He used long lenses to capture most of the shots at a distance because the cameras in the face of non-actors would be too distracting and intimidating. It was a brilliant way to do it. Both of the leads were already friends and their chemistry is great. The guy looks so vulnerable in scenes with her and the girl is so persistent and charming.
There are several scenes in this film that I really like. One is the 90 second, mostly ad-libbed song they use to sum up the guy's past relationship and how he got stalled in life. And he sings it on a bus. And it is funny. Another is when the guy and girl are talking and she reveals she is married and that her husband is still in the Czech Republic where she left him, yet he wants to come to Ireland to be with her. She is saying that she wants her daughter to grow up with her father too and she isn't sure what she should do. The guy asks her "Do you love him?" She answers him in Czech and refuses to translate it. I, of course, did a search and found out that she said "No. I love you." Which is both beautiful and perfect.
I see this as a story about friendship and how sometimes people drop into our lives at just the moment we need them. I am not sure why this is, but it has happened to me several times and it is always a wonderful gift.
And what is with the title, "Once"? The filmmaker says it references all the guys he knew that hung in the pubs in Ireland saying "Once I get my record deal" or "Once I get my own flat" or whatever. The guys who kept waiting for something to happen, but didn't do anything to make it happen. That is the way the guy in the film is and the girl pushes him past the "Once" type of thinking.
All around, for the resources it had, this was an underrated and brilliant film. But don't expect it to be amazing. It isn't amazing. It is brilliant in it's subtlety and yeah, I admit it, I was lame for not getting it the first time.