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Film / Once

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"I loved Once so much, I saw it twice."

Once is a low-budget Irish movie about two musicians (Glen Hansard of The Frames and collaborator Markéta Irglová) who meet by chance and develop a relationship while writing and recording songs together. The film was made for €130,000 ($160,000 USD) and received significant critical acclaim for both its understated romance and for its music (no surprise, since Hansard and Irglová are professional musicians, not actors). The song "Falling Slowly" won the Academy Award for Best Song.

It almost missed its Oscar because parts of the soundtrack, including the winning song, were released on other albums by the same artists prior to the film being released. It was decided to give them their nomination (and inevitable award) anyway since though it technically broke the rules, the film had been in the can over two years by the time it was released, and Oscar glory had been completely outside their expectations. But let it be understood on no uncertain terms, this was far and away the favorite song of the year.

At 19, Irglová is the youngest person ever to win the Best Song Oscar.

Before, during and after the release of the movie Hansard and Irglova have performed as The Swell Season and have released two albums under that name, 2006's The Swell Season (containing many of the songs in Once recorded during the long time it took to get the film made) and 2009's Strict Joy (featuring songs about the end of Hansard and Irglova's real romantic relationship). Both were extremely critically acclaimed upon release.

The film was adapted into a stage musical in early 2012, and holds the distinction of being the first musical ever to have a Broadway run scheduled before it had even opened Off-Broadway. The show opened on March 18 to fantastic reviews, with most critics praising it for keeping to the spirit of the film while making the proper changes to make it work on-stage. It won eight Tony Awards out of eleven nominations, including Best Actor In A Leading Role (Steve Kazee), Best Book, and Best Musical. A US Touring production was announced and the show opened in Dublin, and later, the West End in 2013.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor-Muso Show: The musical uses this approach, with all the songs being In-Universe diegetic performances.
  • Bilingual Bonus: That understated romance between Guy and Girl is never really resolved unless you know Czech. If you do, then you can understand what Guy couldn't when Girl answered "No, I love you."
  • Bittersweet Ending: Because the Guy Did Not Get the Girl.
  • Boy Meets Girl
  • Creator Cameo: Writer/Director John Carney can be seen briefly in the apartment house when Guy and Girl walk upstairs to her apartment.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Contrary to what is expected of quirky romances, Girl remains faithful to her estranged husband (who returns by the end of the film), and Guy leaves on a jet plane to win back his ex-girlfriend.
  • Diegetic Musical: The plot centers around two musicians performing songs for each other and eventually recording an album together.
  • Duet Bonding: Drives the entire plot. The lead couple discovers they have incredible musical chemistry when they perform together, which awakens some other feelings.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Though mileage may vary on how bitter, or how sweet, the ending is, by the time the film is over both Guy and Girl have found strength to move on from past heartbreak and give love a second chance, and Guy's music career is off to a pretty good start.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Downplayed. Girl is certainly enthusiastic, but direct and practical rather than aimless and quirky. Furthermore, she has baggage of her own, and can't magically help Guy put his life back together. But Guy is grateful to her nonetheless, and he tries to pay back for the courage she gave him.
  • Meet Cute
  • No Name Given: Neither of the two main characters is ever referred to by name, and they're credited as "Guy" and "Girl." Guy's dad, Guy's girlfriend, Girl's husband and Girl's mother are also unnamed.
    • The silent video footage of the girlfriend is actually of writer/director John Carney's real life girlfriend, most of it (the parts that don't feature Hansard) was originally just amateur footage Carney shot of her before he even thought of making Once. At one point she says something to the camera and lip-reading reveals she's saying, "Stop it, Johnny." Carney and Hansard point this out in the DVD audio commentary and joke that you now know the Guy's first name.
  • Race for Your Love: Guy searches for Girl before he leaves for his flight to say his goodbyes, but ultimately cannot find her. Instead, he sends her a piano, which is what she has always wanted.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Of the mistaking-fiction-for-reality variety. Because the 2 stars are 1) not professional actors, 2) are music performers/composers (like their characters), 3) composed all the songs (again, like the characters), and 4) are playing characters with No Name Given, many people thought this was some kind of documentary about what actually happened to Hansard and Irglova.note 
  • Scatting: The first time Guy leads the Girl through "Falling Slowly," he does so by just going "Ba, ba, ba ba..." It becomes quite funny when his voice cracks at the high note. But when he actually sings, the entire song falls into place.
  • Second Love: When the Guy and the Girl meet, he's still in anguish over his longtime girlfriend who cheated on and dumped him; she's conflicted over having left her husband. Subverted at the end. They give each other the strength to seek closure or a new beginning with their first loves.
  • Serenade Your Lover: Subverted. When they're alone with a piano, the Girl sings a love song to the Guy... but it's a heartbroken ode to the husband she left, and she can't even bring herself to finish it.
  • Shown Their Work: The film showcases Glen Hansard's knowledge of the minutiae of busking, such as cover versions earning far more than original songs.
  • Spiritual Sequel: in The Commitments, Glen Hansard plays Outspan and finishes the film busking on the streets of Dublin. Cut forward twenty years and Glen Hansard stars in film which opens with his character... busking on the streets of Dublin. Bonus points due the fact that his character in Once isn't named.
  • Uncommon Time:
    • "Gold" is primarily in 6/8 and 4/4, but throws in some other half-measures for the heck of it. It also has a habit of taking the 4/4 bars as 3+3+2/8, making it sound like 6/8 - 6/8 - 2/4.
    • Next to that, "When Your Mind's Made Up" being in 5/4 looks positively straightforward.

The Broadway musical contains examples of

  • Actor-Muso Show: Every actor in the show is on stage at all times, and also plays backing instruments. Sometimes they even do it in-character.
  • Adaptation Expansion: There are some new characters added and others have their roles expanded. For instance, the banker, who approves the loan due to his own love of music, plays cello for the group's band.
  • Big Applesauce: The Guy's ex-girlfriend lives in New York, instead of London, as she did in the film. Guy considers flying there to try and win her back. Played for Drama, as this means Guy and Girl's decision to part is more irrevocable.
  • Book Ends: "Falling Slowly" is the first complete number of the show, and also the last. (It is preceded by "Leave," but the Guy falls apart mid-performance and isn't able to continue.)
  • Diegetic Music: A fair bit of it is, despite being a musical. A new scene features Guy performing "Gold" at an open mic night at the local bar (under the name "Hoover Guy").
  • Dreadful Musician: The banker. His guitar playing is serviceable, but...
    Girl: Don't sing.
    Guy: Ever.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: At the open mic night, the Guy is mortified to play under the name "Hoover Guy" (presumably it was Girl's idea).
  • The Ghost: The Girl's husband never appears, though he is the topic of some discussion.
  • Greek Chorus: actors who aren't currently playing specific characters take on this role in the meantime.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: The Girl, probably because it would be tough to make the painfully shy characterization from the film work well on stage.
  • Running Gag: "I'm always serious. I'm Czech."
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: Winning a bunch of awards, providing the setting to one of Neil Patrick Harris's Tony Award openers, and bringing the original Girl, Cristin Milioti, to the eyes of the How I Met Your Mother casting directors.
  • Straight Gay: The banker off-handedly reveals that he's "more of a penis person" in response to Billy's enthusiastic retelling of his note  sexual experience (with Réza) the night before. Billy doesn't get it, at first.
    Billy: Well, you'd have a hard time finding one on a woman, wouldn't you? [Beat] Oh, understood.
  • Tactful Translation: Babushka tells a long, fanciful story about a man who dreamed and feared and shat in his bed. Her daughter merely translates this as, "Good luck."
  • Teasing from Behind the Language Barrier: When the Guy asks the Girl whether she still loves her husband, she replies in Czech: "I love you", but coyly refuses to translate it.
  • Translation Convention: When Czech characters talk privately, they speak English while Czech subtitles are projected above the stage. This later becomes a Chekhov's Gun during the Bilingual Bonus scene mentioned above, where when she says I love you to Guy in Czech, it is subtitled in English.