It is a sentimental love-story just this side of fairy-tale, though only just. Despite its opening sequence which suggested that it might be prepared to deal head-on with the seamier side of life, it can't resist having leads who though they are marginalized, still manage to have star qualities including exceptional musical abilities. The 'guy' (played by Glen Hansard), manages not only to work in his father's vacuum repair store but also busk on the streets, morning, noon and night. The girl (Markéta Irglová), a recent refugee, in Dublin with her mother and young daughter, sells flowers and cleans the houses of a well-to-do family by day. This is like the Dublin of The Commitments, blue-collar but safe. The girl lives in a converted Georgian terrace populated by other immigrants who hang around the doorstep and cheerfully invade her apartment to watch the only TV in the building. There are no drug dealers or pimps around, not even whoever it is that supplies the roses she touts on the street. This is a fairy-tale land where the music shop owner is happy to let the girl play the pianos in his store and the bank manager is a frustrated musician himself who is willing to lend them the money they need to make a record once they have heard his attempts at songwriting. The sound engineer at the studio is a jaded hack until he hears the band play.
It is a love story with a twist and it does what it does well. The first time the pair play together builds from an awkward embarrassed beginning to a full-throated finale and the biggest star of the screen is probably Dublin itself. Despite the sugar-cating, this is a movie shot on the streets and in the rooms of a real place. I liked Once a whole lot more than I thought I would. I'm not a great fan of the confessional singer songwriter a là Cat Stevens/James Taylor but I found myself enjoying the music because of the power of the performers to make me want to stop and listen to the whole song for itself rather than as a soundtrack to the movie.
Once is available on DVD from 20th Century Fox.