ONCE (John Carney). 85 minutes. Opens Friday (May 25). Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Once , director John Carney 's ambitious indie Sundance hit, not only reinvents the musical but also gives romance films a much-needed facelift. There are no show-stopping dance numbers or epic declarations of love, but the low-key tone is charming and sincere.
While busking on the streets of Dublin, the film's nameless male lead ( Glen Hansard of the Irish band the Frames) meets cute with a Czech piano player ( Markéta Irglová ). After a few days of jittery small talk, they begin to collaborate, eventually making it to a local studio where he hopes to record his big break.
Carney avoids cheap subplots or secondary characters. The emotionally damaged leads are compelling enough to float the simple boy-meets-girl narrative, while every song they perform reveals a new layer of longing.
The grounded direction and grainy, hand-held style make Once seem like a documentary on songwriting. And it doesn't hurt that Hansard and Irglová have collaborated on albums in the past.
Unusually constrained and earnest, Carney's subtle film is more satisfying than any recent big-budget romance.