Note: Guides from our archive are in a slightly different format and have been edited here to make them more user-friendly. This guide was written by Rachel Helen Smith.
Dave (Adam Levine) has just landed a music deal with a major record label in New York City. Gretta (Keira Knightley) travels with him to America, both as his girlfriend and his musical partner. Dave comes alive on the stage, whilst Gretta prefers to hide away writing songs. But when Dave becomes intoxicated with his newfound fame, he soon forgets Gretta. Alone in a foreign city she relies on the friendship of her entertaining pal Steve (James Corden) to distract her from her broken heart.
Meanwhile, Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is fired from his role at the record label that he co-founded. He has also been exiled from the house that he used to share with his wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) and teenage daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). When he hears Gretta singing in a local bar, he is captivated by her simple, unpolished charm. He suggests that they collaborate, and the resulting album is a tribute to hope, friendship, and New York City.
- Did you enjoy the film and why, or why not? If you have seen Once (2007), the first film by director John Carney, how does this compare? Why do you think Carney chose to return to similar material, and was he right to do so?
- What did you think of the music that was used within the film? What did it contribute to your experience of the film overall, and what moods did it evoke?
- Why do you think that the writer chose to set the film in New York? What did this add to the production as a whole? What makes New York such an iconic city, and how has it featured in other films that you have seen?
- What did you think of the casting? Which of the central performances stood out for you, and why was this the case? How well did Keira Knightley shape up as a singer, and how well did the musicians in the cast cope with the acting?
‘This is for anyone who’s ever been alone in the city.’ – Gretta
- How does the film explore the themes of loneliness and regret? How do the various characters choose to deal with their feelings of loneliness, and are they successful in overcoming them?
- How did you feel about the film’s ending? Why do you think the director chose to have the concluding scenes play alongside the credits? How, if at all, did this affect the mood of the final moments?
‘Maybe people in the music industry just don’t make good life partners.’ – Dan
- What does the film have to say about the idea of loyalty? In today’s society, how do we respond to the idea of ‘life partners’ and how might this differ from the ideas of past generations? What, if anything, does the film suggest about finding long-term fulfilment through relationships?
- How does the film explore creativity and the lives of artists? How do the characters respond to the various challenges of the music industry? How does our own society view the role of musicians and artists?
- What role did Violet play within the film and how did you respond to her? To what extent is Dan a good father to her? How does their relationship develop and change over the course of the film? Why are parent-child relationships often used as a way of telling us something important about characters?
‘Why are you so worried what other people think?’ – Gretta
- Is Dave presented as a purely bad character, or did you have some sympathy for him? What does the film have to say about the dangers of fame and celebrity? What challenges might face people who are offered the prospect of wide-spread recognition?
‘Who are we? Just a speck of dust in the galaxy.’ – Dave, song lyric
- Does the film give any reflection on human nature and, if so, what is it? How might music and poetry help us to explore life’s big questions? Where else might we look for answers about who we are?
- What do you think is the significance of the film’s title? To what extent do the various characters find ways to ‘begin again’? Why might we feel that we have reached a point in our own lives when we want to begin again, and how might we try to achieve this?