Correspondent Mike D’Virgilio reviews the musical film Once. Or is it more than a musical?

Screen image from Once

‘Once’ and Again

By Mike D’Virgilio 

I hate musicals!

In our house, the women (wife and daughter) love musicals. The men (dad and the two sons) don’t. This is a solid line, brightly demarcated, where no compromise is broached.

Think, then, of the surprise and amazement when I told the girls that they had to see a musical I had seen the night before. They were dubious, to say the least, until they started watching. I rarely watch movies twice, and if it’s got too much music, chances are I won’t watch it even once. But I watched Once on back-to-back nights.

Now, saying that Once is a musical is not exactly right, although the publicity refers to it as a “modern day musical.” It’s really a movie with a lot of music in it, very touching, melodic, and powerful music.

Once is an ode to the power of music to touch and express the soul. The two main actors are in fact musicians first who had never acted until this movie. Good choice. I can’t imagine the parts being played well by actors who were not musicians.

The story takes place on the streets of Dublin, where a struggling musician plays for coins. Through his music he meets a young Czech immigrant who sells flowers on the same street. It’s a tale of loneliness and longing told through song, and a love story with an ending that is an anachronism for our age: no sex!

The Dubliner, in pain from a love lost, is a thirtysomething slacker who works with his father fixing vacuum cleaners. The gal, also a musician, lives with her mother and toddler daughter in a small apartment while her husband remains in the Czech Republic. You can see the adultery coming from a mile away, but surprisingly and refreshingly, it never comes.

Instead, in the space of a week the two musicians inspire each other with their music and their mutual longing, and because of the girl’s encouragement they end up recording songs so that the guy can hit it big in London.

The style is low-budget yet engaging, minimalist, even rough, but satisfying. It shows you don’t need a lot of money to tell a touching story in a powerful way.

Once is a beautifully simple story told with elegance and grace. Its emotional power is much stronger than most mainstream films can even hope to muster. Watch it, and you won’t be able to get the tunes out of your head for some time.