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Music and Love Make the Story for Once

  • Annabelle Robertson Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jan 14, 2008
Music and Love Make the Story for <i>Once</i>

DVD Release Date:  December 18, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  May 16, 2007
Rating:  R (for language)
Genre:  Foreign/Musical/Romance
Run Time:  88 min.
Writer/Director:  John Carney
Actors:  Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova, Hugh Walsh, Gerry Hendrick

Glen Hansard (The Commitments) plays the unnamed guy in this film.  A vacuum repairman, he works in his father’s shop and spends his free time singing and playing the guitar outside the subways of Dublin—and trying to get over the girl who left him. 

Marketa Irglova plays the gal.  A recent immigrant from the Czech Republic, she sells flowers and works as a maid for a wealthy family, helping to support her stay-at-home mother and young daughter.  The two get to know one another when she finds out what he does and brings along her vacuum—which trails behind her like a worn-out puppy—to be fixed.

What these two really have in common, however, is music.  Like him, she longs to play for a living.  She doesn’t have money for a piano, but she practices at a local music shop every afternoon.  And when they finally play together, it’s a natural duet.  But can these everyday dreamers overcome their meager circumstances to chase the unspoken longings of their hearts?

The film’s plot is so sparse that these characters don’t even have names.  But that doesn’t matter at all.  Once is a short but straightforward story about two people who are looking for love, though neither realizes it, and who live and view the world through music.  He thinks she’s interested when she’s not, but eventually the music bridges the gap—just as it does for their future. 

Hansard makes his real-life living playing with The Frames, a popular Irish rock band with a small international following.  Irglova is a Czech singer-songwriter, so the music they sing is both authentic and compelling.  Which is a good thing, since the story largely unfolds through song, much like a musical.  It’s the way these two communicate with each other—and the way they view the world, as well as the way emotion is expressed throughout the film.  We’re taken into the streets of Dublin, where busker-musicians know each other by name.  Even the loan officer at the bank is a musician (though not a particularly good one).  It’s a musician thing.  But be prepared for an expected ending, after a not-so-surprising climax in a recording studio.

In a way that is completely different from American filmmakers, writer-director John Carney (Catch the Sun) allows almost every song to play out in full, without editing or close-ups or swelling orchestral accompaniment to cue our every emotion.  And, while neither Hansard nor Irglova are professional actors, they do a great job with their roles, as do all of the other characters.  The cinematography, though sparse and even simplistic at times, is perfectly suited to this small tale as well.

For once (if you’ll pardon the pun), the MPAA was actually too strict with its rating.  Given an “R” because of language (which is strong at times), Once has no sex (not even a kiss), no violence and nothing else that would merit anything more than a PG-13 rating.  So, while it’s not a family film, it’s not one that needs to be kept under wraps from older, more mature teens, either—especially with parental guidance and some good discussion about love, marriage and second chances.

It’s a different sort of film, and if your tastes veer more toward When Harry Met Sally, you probably won’t appreciate this much, especially with such a slow beginning.  But if you’re in the mood for something new—and you like music—you just might appreciate Once.  Certainly, it’s a film that overflows with hope for everyday folks.  And that’s not a tune Hollywood sings very often.


  • Audio and musical commentary by director and co-stars
  • Two featurettes
  • Theatrical trailers


  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Man appears drunk and urinates on street.
  • Language/Profanity:  Multiple uses of strong profanity (especially f-word) throughout film.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Man asks a young woman to spend the night; a woman talks about “hanky-panky” and insists that it’s “not a good idea.”
  • Violence:  Man steals a guitar case before victim runs after him and wrestles him to ground.