“How about we call it Twice?” suggests John Anderson at Thompson on Hollywood. “Director John Carney so desperately wants to recreate the success of Once with his latest pop-musical fairy tale, Can a Song Save Your Life?, that it’s almost embarrassing, even if there are a number of good things to say about it. Enough good things, in fact, that the Weinstein Co. already snatched the movie up out of Toronto for a reported $7-odd-million. And you can easily see why: It possesses the kind of shameless sentimentality that sells. And a shallowness that’s ultimately depressing.”
“Could just one number, performed weedily by Keira Knightley at the beginning of this romcom, cause your body to self-combust at the prospect of enduring 90-odd minutes of a movie obsessed with authenticity but as phoney as a Miley Cyrus dance routine?” asks Paul MacInnes in the Guardian. “Thankfully, the answer to the question is no. But it could certainly get close.”
But not all the reviews are that harsh. “With Can a Song Save Your Life? Carney demonstrates that the disarming emotional candor and intimacy of the earlier film was no fluke,” writes David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter. “He is a wholesale believer in the healing power of music, as the too-literal title suggests. The director also has a profound respect for the way music is created, manifested here in a rejection of processed pop and its accompanying marketing concerns, and an embrace of back-to-basics purity.”
“The story centers on forlorn aspiring British songwriter Gretta (Keira Knightley) adrift in Manhattan after getting dumped by her philandering rock star boyfriend (Adam Levine) and being discovered by struggling music producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo),” explains Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. “Eager for a fresh discovery, Dan pushes Gretta to sign with him and record an ambitious outdoors album all across the city. She’s initially reticent; songwriting is just something that she does. Can a Song Save Your Life? explores this tension with a blithe attitude that foregrounds several enjoyable melodies performed throughout the movie, but it also feels every bit as commercial as the world it disparages.”
“Although the film isn’t a musical in the conventional sense, it does provide ample opportunity for songs, even if most of them aren’t allowed to play out in their entirety,” writes Variety‘s Peter Debruge. “The ones that matter repeat multiple times in different versions, building up to Levine’s heartbreaking rendition of ‘Lost Stars,’ which pairs a legitimately once-in-a-blue-moon piece of songwriting with an equally strong bit of screenwriting. Cameron Crowe would be proud to have written such a scene, and Carney makes it the capper to a film that lays emotions on the line and then drives them home with music.”
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Updates, 9/11: “The situation’s more contrived and the songs more shoehorned-in than they were in Once, with Carney indulging in some hackneyed clichés about the music business, New York City, and ‘authenticity,'” writes Noel Murray at the Dissolve. “And yet I appreciated how Carney avoided making anyone in the movie an easy villain (even Levine’s impure rocker is basically a good dude), and I loved the way he structures the movie so that the story takes a backseat to the many scenes of musicians making magic in New York. It helps that the songs (by New Radicals refusenik Gregg Alexander) are so catchy. And for me personally it helps that I’m such a sucker for the whole idea of music as a unifier and a healer. By the end of this movie I was so far in the tank for it that my opinion probably can’t be trusted.”
“I’m glad, I seriously am, that John Carney wants to make deeply and embarrassingly sincere musical movies, and I hope he keeps on making them, but let’s hope he realizes that when it comes to Once, once was enough,” writes EW‘s Owen Gleiberman.