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Once (revised and sexed-up)

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This is not a "chick flick." The DVD cover (right) misrepresents the movie.

I resisted seeing John Carney's "Once" at first. Sounded to me a little too much like what, in the 1970s, somebody might have called a "folk opera" -- an Irish acoustic-balladeer musical. You know: moosh. Guy (Glen Hansard) meets Girl (Markéta Irglová) -- yes, that's as much as the movie tells us about the main characters' names -- and, before you know it, they're bursting into song. Which they do, but it's not like "West Side Story" on the streets of Dublin. He sings because he's a busker, but he's also a non-musical vacuum repair guy. The important thing is that "Once" is by no means a conventional romantic musical. It's just that the performances, and the dialog, and the story, are primarily expressed through the songs composed and sung (for plausible reasons) by the Guy and the Girl. The music is what passes between the two of them, particularly in a marvelous scene in which he teaches her one of his songs, and she accompanies him on piano, in the back of a music store.

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The original movie still. OK, maybe the stocking cap had to go for the poster...

"Once" is the kind of movie everybody calls "charming," but I think that does it a disservice. Not that it isn't charming, just not in quite the ways you'd necessarily expect. For instance, I don't think I've ever pulled so strongly for the two lead characters to not "get together" as I did in this movie. If, even for a moment, it had tipped over into a conventional romance it would have failed.

Which is why the DVD cover for "Once" bugs me. Look at the original poster, above left. The Guy and the Girl are walking side by side, having a conversation. They're looking at each other, but no PDA. Now look at the DVD image: Same photo (with colors brightened), same cobblestone-street-as-guitar... but are they holding hands? That is wrong, wrong, wrong! She's received a colorized accessory makeover, while he's been de-scruffed and dressed in a more svelte and stylish jacket and sweater, with a newly color-coordinated scarf, and what looks like tighter-fitting jeans. And a gym membership. Is somebody is trying to sell this movie as a "chick flick"? I hate that term, but I think it accurately reflects what's going on here... The movie got terrific reviews and became a sleeper hit with audiences -- a $150,000 movie that grossed about $9.5 million in the US (approximately 65 percent of its worldwide take). Was this really necessary?

(Tip: Dave McCoy, who has "Once" as the #2 movie on his ten best list.)

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