Reviewer's grade: B
As winner of the Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, "Once," a quasi-musical from Ireland, has generated buzz usually reserved for the likes of iPhones and Shrouds of Turin. But this low-budgeter is best appreciated if you put aside expectations and surrender yourself to its modest charms.
Writer-director John Carney's flick is so simple that the lead characters don't even have names; the credits list them as "the guy" and "the girl." Irish rocker Glen Hansard plays the former, a street musician toiling away in his father's vacuum cleaner repair shop. He meets up with a girl (Markéta Irglová), a Czech immigrant struggling to earn a living for her mother and infant daughter. They're attracted to each other. Both carry emotional baggage from other relationships, however, so they pour their shared passion into making music. And beautiful music, it is - earnest folk-rock ballads reminiscent of Coldplay and Jeff Buckley.
Despite its gritty vibe, "Once" is occasionally too sappy for its own good, but the sour notes are few and far between. R