"Once" is a real find. The story of a street musician who meets a Czech émigré on the streets of downtown Dublin, is a believable, well-made film about love, dreams and making things happen.
Guy (Glen Hansard, a real musician who also appeared in the film "The Commitments"), a street busker who sings his heart out on the streets of Dublin, works in his dad's vacuum repair shop. One day, a young lady (Marketa Irglova), a Czech immigrant, begins to ask him questions about his music, his passions, the inspiration for his ballads. They form a friendship and she encourages him to follow his dream and put together a demo album. As the friendship grows, she helps him negotiate a recording studio and practice the songs. In the process, she invites him into her home, to meet her mother and young daughter. During the course of their relationship, they grow closer, but she is still married and can't let anything happen. They round up some other musicians and begin to work on the demo, to help him with his dream.
"Once", written and directed by John Carney, is a very intimate look at the relationship between these two people. A lot of handheld camera work, close shots and grungy, real locations help to give the film an incredible cinema verite look and style. The camera work is handheld, but not overly shaky, creating shots with an intimate, close appearance, really thrusting us into the middle of the action.
The relationship between Guy and Girl (as they are listed in the credits) is really an interesting one that draws you into their lives. Initially, the guy is a bit put off by the girl, she is extremely chatty and forthcoming, asking him a lot of questions about his music, why he sings certain songs, the inspiration, etc. As a street musician, he is naturally a little weary about people getting too close, he simply wants them to enjoy a little of the music and drop a couple of coins or bills into his guitar case and leave. So, the young woman who stops to ask questions, in her accented English, is a minor annoyance, until he realizes she is genuinely interested.
As their relationship grows, he feels a fondness for her, and as a single man, he naturally flirts with her. But when she realizes this is going too far, she gives him a little look, a minor reprimand, and he realizes she is right. They are friends, sharing an experience. And she is married, even if her husband still lives in the Czech Republic and they are having problems.
As they become friends, they become involved in each other's lives. He meets her mother and daughter, sees where she lives, has dinner at their house. She meets his dad and becomes involved in his making of a demo album.
When the duo shows up at the recording studio, with their fellow street musicians, the sound engineer greets them, but secretly reveals his true feelings to someone on his cell phone. He has a feeling this group is another example of people with too much ambition and not enough talent; they don't even know the technical details of recording the music. But when they start playing, he recognizes they have talent, the songs are good, and the lead singer, our guy, is quite good, so he becomes engrossed in making the demo as good as possible. He becomes a part of their team, investing part of himself in the production of the demo.
Part of the beauty of "Once" is that nothing seems forced. They don't have sex, simply to make the story more dramatic. In fact, the course of their relationship seems all the more real because they simply remain friends, close friends invested in each other's lives and livelihood. There aren't any manufactured crises involving her mother and baby or his dad. They simply struggle with real life.
Also, the music is quite good throughout the film. Guy sings a song, a love ballad he wrote for his girlfriend who moved away to London, a few times, each time making it a little better. Finally, when they record it for the demo, it is as good as it could be, with the girl playing keyboard and singing backup and the addition of the other musicians they have recruited.
"Once" is a film about the guy following his dream. He wants to make a demo and travel to London, to try to get a contract. But perhaps more importantly, he wants to reunite with his girlfriend. All he needs is a little push, a little support and guidance from a friend. He finds that friendship with the girl, his new friend who helps him realize he should go for his dream.