"Begin Again" and "Parks and Recreation" are this week's picks.
I've been feeling slightly under the weather this week, which is maybe the worst way to feel. I'd much rather be all-the-way sick than be stuck in this health purgatory. At least then I could spend the day in bed. Instead, I've been walking around tired with a headache. Alas, I have a job to do, and part of that is bringing you all this column. Thanks to my weird week, I've been eating a lot of soup, so I'm going to write my Definitive Soup Rankings below.
Please do not argue with me. These rankings are definitive, as implied by the name. I'm right about them. Also, I'm not including things like ramen and pho and chili because those are their own things, to me. OK great.
1. French onion
2. Matzo ball
3. Tomato (with a grilled cheese)
4. Chicken noodle
7. Corn chowder
8. Crab bisque
10. Italian wedding
12. Tomato (sans grilled cheese)
T13. The rest of them
Thank you all in advance for agreeing.
“Begin Again” (2013)
Vudu, rated R, 104 minutes
When I started planning for Hinge Blog, I took care to say the focus was on relationships — full stop — that were the backbone of non-rom-com films or shows. What I made sure to omit there was “romantic relationships” because characters can show love and care about one another without taking it to the bedroom. I wanted to give myself that leeway.
“Begin Again” is a perfect example of why I needed that leeway. It’s a music movie, which I have established as a genre I love, and is different than “musical.” Not only that, but it’s by John Carney, who directed my much-beloved “Sing Street” and also the recent Amazon hit “Modern Love.” With those credentials, you might expect “Begin Again” to be a rom-com itself, but it’s not, at least not directly.
It stars Mark Ruffalo as Dan, a once-successful music producer who gets fired from his label and is estranged from his wife (Catherine Keener). One night at a bar, he meets Gretta (Keira Knightly), a burgeoning singer-songwriter who finds herself newly single after a break-up with Dave (Adam Levine), a more established singer. Other movies would have Dan and Gretta hook up after this meeting. They don’t here. They just become good friends, and Dan helps Gretta record her debut album at different locations across New York City.
There’s something precious and pure about their relationship. Dan sees Gretta as a real musician, the type who doesn’t get enough credit in today’s musical landscape, and believes in her talent, while Gretta sees Dan as a mentor at a time when she needs a hand to hold, not just professionally but personally. It’s nice to watch a film that understands women and men can be friends, especially ones with an age difference. Gretta even takes Dan’s daughter, Violet (Hailey Steinfeld), as a mentee of her own.
Gretta eventually helps Dan patch the relationship with his wife, Miriam, and Gretta puts out her album. It sells 10,000 units on the first day, which is a perfect number. It’s a success but not a staggering one. It’s not going to place in the Billboard Top 10 for the week, but it is going to put money in her pockets and prove her ex wrong.
Knightly and Ruffalo have chemistry to burn. I believe that their music nerd asses would be fast friends. The songs are also delightful. “Lost Stars” was one of my favorite pop songs from the 2000s, period, both in stripped-down and maximalist form. I don’t know if it beats the “Sing Street” soundtrack, but it’s close.
(As an aside, having Levine play a musician who has lost touch with what once made his music special is a beautiful touch. I wonder if Levine gets the joke. Either way, he’s pretty great here.)
I’m a sucker for this type of thing, so I can’t tell if this movie is actually good or if I’m just all-in on its vibe — maybe the answer doesn’t matter — but if you like movies that make you feel better about the world, you shouldn’t skip this one.
“Parks and Recreation” (2009-2015)
Hulu/Amazon Prime, rated TV-14, 22 minutes, 125 episodes
I can’t go a Hinge Blog week without including an actual romance, so what better time to talk about maybe the sweetest romance in sitcom history?
No, not April and Andy. And no, not Ron and breakfast meats. It’s Leslie and Ben, of course. The show throws some obstacles in their way during their initial flirtations, but once they are together, they are together until the end. Watching their relationship strengthen is so rewarding as a viewer and a nice reprieve from the “will they or won’t they” dynamic most shows take with their romances. There was never much doubt how Leslie and Ben would end up.
Even thought “Parks and Rec” was an ensemble show in every sense, its through line was sincerity, and nowhere is that found more than in this pairing. It’s the whole reason for perhaps the show’s most-quoted line, “I love you, and I like you.” They have so many memorable moments together that it’s hard to pick a favorite. The surprise trip to Paris? The surprise wedding? Ben giving Leslie an L-shaped eclair? Or bringing her waffles in the hospital? What about when Leslie got him a replica “Games of Thrones” throne?
There’s no wrong answer. Their relationship is one of support. It is always building on itself. Even when the dynamic changes, like when Ben has to work in Washington, D.C., they are there for each other. Amy Poehler and Adam Scott do a wonderful job of selling every moment. I don’t know if there are two characters more perfect for each other than these two.