Our protagonists aren’t given names. They’re just “guy” and “girl,” and one day meet at work, which is on streets of Dublin. She squeaks by selling single roses and is drawn to him by one of the heart-wrenching songs he sings for spare change. After she reveals her talents on the piano, a friendship quickly develops.
Guy and Girl have much more in common than music. Both live with their parents and through his songs and her ever-insistent questions we learn both are wounded products of failed relationships. He uses his heartache as a muse, hers left her the single-mother of a small child.
Over the few days we’re given the privilege to watch, theirs is a friendship which constantly threatens to bloom into romance As the affection between them grows, each pushes the other to move on with their life — to make the tough decisions and take the risks necessary to find a place in the world. Our job is to desperately hope “that place” finds them together.
Once is a musical but never feels like one because the songs don’t stop the story, they move it. Each musical moment is integrated into the narrative in ways that never feel contrived or awkward. The music itself is fantastic. Before the end-credits finished rolling The Hot Little Number I Call Mrs. Harry had already ordered the soundtrack.
What makes Once work so beautifully is that not a single convention of the tired, modern-day romance is employed. There’s certainly a plot, and it’s a good one, but it’s the emotional beats of our protagonists’ relationship that structure the story, not the exhausted meet-cute and break-up plot-turns that have become entirely too predictable.
Within three-minutes of Guy and Girl meeting you really want them to get together. And while our desire to see them together drives the emotional sub-text, it’s never manipulated. Everything that happens between our protagonists feels as real as a home movie and the emotional investment pays off handsomely thanks to an ending as tender and emotional as any I’ve seen in years.
The two stars are magnificent, especially Irglova, who has a smile Roger Ebert perfectly described as “the kind of smile that makes a man want to be a better person, so he can deserve being smiled at.” Through her beguiling screen presence, this nineteen-year-old actress magically transforms her character’s willfulness into something enchanting and gives her a depth that will never stop surprising the lucky man who wins her.
This is the kind of woman I’ve waited for… and deep down I know I will never find. And thus, I have dealt with the fact that I will live and die alone.
But, since I used to be this sort of man – one who has wanted to be the man who inspired a woman to be all she could be and, who, in turn, inspired me to be the man I should be – I am a sucker for these types of movies. For it allows me, for a short time, to live through the characters and, for a brief moment, regain little hope in my heart that this could actually become reality for me. But alas, the movie ends and reality sets in.
However, just reading this review by Dirty Harry at LIBERTAS makes me want to see this movie and have one of these short moments of hope, no matter how futile.