Once is one of those rare movies that is deceptively simple.  On the surface, it is just a story about two people who meet and write songs together.  However, underneath, it is rich, complex, and the most satisfying portrait of a relationship between two people in recent memory.  Once is also unique because writer/director John Carney (On the Edge) created a musical unlike most other musicals on screen.  Instead of having the songs move the story forward, the songs serve more as an emotional barometer of the relationship between the unnamed Guy and Girl.

The Guy is played by Glen Hansard (The Commitments).  Hansard used to be part of The Frames but is now a solo artist.  He and Carney co-wrote the songs in Once.  Hansard's character repairs vacuums by day, and during his free time, plays his guitars and his songs on the street.  He writes his own music and wants to be a singer.  By day, he sings songs that people know, mainly so that they will be more likely to give him money.  By night, he sings the songs that he wrote.  Most are sad, because he is still getting over the end of his relationship. 

One night he meets the Girl (Marketa Irglova), an immigrant from the Czech Republic who incessantly questions him about his songs.  He humors her, but seems a bit annoyed that she is taking time away from his singing.  When she discovers that he repairs vacuums, she promises to stop by again to listen some more and drop off her broken vacuum.  The second time they meet, he learns that she plays music.  She takes him to the store where she plays, and plays with him on one of his songs. Once is different is that the focus of the movie is on their relationship and their songs. There aren't any lame dramatic hurdles that the characters have to go through - each just wants to make music.

The result is fantastic, beginning a friendship that toes the line between something more.  Once traces this friendship/relationship through the evolution of the songs. As the two get to know each other more, the Girl gradually lets the guy into her life, while the Guy inches towards making music his career.  There seems to be just as much time devoted to listening to the pair sing as there is to listening to them speak, and Carney allows the songs to play their entire length. It really works that Hansard and Irglova are musicians and not actors. Watching them feels like watching two real people take tentative steps around each other, instead of watching two actors play roles. Moreover, watching the two actually play music on screen is beautiful.
Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 25 minutes, Rated R for language.

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