Raise Your Hopeful Voice

Like the film he was encouraging me to see, Ron’s email was short and sweet.

“Get thee to the cinema,” it read. “Like, tomorrow.”

Sunday, then, found Abbi and I reclining in the perfect optical and aural center of AMC Theatre #15 for the 7:05 screening of “Once.”

Like Ron’s subject header said, “Oh man!”

When the lights came up, Abbi (who knows me well enough to a) not ask me, “What did you think?” or b) stand up to leave before the credits rolled) and I eavesdropped on the couple next to us.

“What did you think?” the woman asked as she stood up to leave.

“I was expecting something… earth shattering,” the guy replied. “But, yunno, it was fine.”

I resisted the temptation to pop the guy upside the side of the head and say, “Fine? Fine!?! Dude, get over yourself. Embrace your inner romantic!”

Because “Once” is way more than fine. It is outstanding. It is the reason God invented celluloid… and the acoustic guitar.

You know the story, right? (The film is in limited New York and Los Angeles release, so you may not.) A Dublin-based busker (The Frames’ Glen Hansard) meets a Czeck flower girl (Marketa Irglova) who also happens to be a) adorable and b) transcendent pianist and vocalist. They fall in love, and record a demo. And live happily ever after.

Kind of.

Because, in addition to being one of the most independent looking films since “Clerks” (entire sections of the film were out of focus, but I didn’t care), “Once” is a note-perfect, most un-Hollywood love story. What happens in the end is what really happens in the end.

Life goes on.

Better yet, the film looks like real life. The actors (who aren’t even actors) are flawed. Hansard’s a bit cross-eyed. Irglova’s a bit dowdy. The film stock turns grainy at night. Some lines are indescernable.

Like real life.

Also, the film is a completely unconventional musical. This is no “Chicago” or “Dreamgirls.” The protagonosts are musicians. When they break into song, it’s in context. Like when Irglova walks down a dark street singing along with her Walkman to a lyricless song Hansard’s written.

Moreover, the film is loaded with excellent songs: “Falling Slowly,” “If You Want Me,” and “Fallen From The Sky” are all instantly hummable. Hansard’s voice is road warn, world weary, but invested with just enough hope. His melodies leap into falsetto more than most pop songs. And Irglova (who is nineteen-years-old!) sounds like a mixture of Karen Paris (of The Innocence Mission) and Bjork. Together, they gave me goosebumps.

There’s a passage in the film where the two are recording for the forst time with their ad hoc band. The engineer is dubious. He flips through Billboard while punching the record button. But as the song (the luminous “When Your Mind’s Made Up”) gains momentum, he can’t hide his enthusiasm.

Neither could I. I downloaded the album this morning. Brilliant.

So, like Ron said, get thee to the cinema.

Like, tomorrow.

Real life never felt so good.

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