2011, d. Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins, Carlo Mirabella-Davis -- netflix
The 2007 indie film Once became a mainstream phenomenon initially through intensive word of mouth, followed by an Oscar nomination, which begat a powerful onstage performance of Falling Slowly at the Academy Awards ceremony, and, ultimately an win for Best Original Song. The duo of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová took to the stage, and after receiving their statues from a plastic-y looking John Travolta, Hansard delivering a gracious and emotional thank-you a bewildered Irglová stepped forward only to find the mic had been cut off and the Oscar band played up. A short while later, Oscar host Jon Stewart brought Irglová back out to deliver her speech, an Oscar-history highlight to be sur. It was a memorable evening and the following day the Once soundtrack became a bestseller. I would even hazard a guess that more people bought the album than saw the film.
If you've seen the film, or listened to the album, or even if you've only heard the one song, it's evident that Hansard and Irglová make an incredible musical duo, and while the story of their meeting and partnership in Once was fictional, there is a real story behind it. The Swell Season follows the pair as their band (ahem, The Swell Season) tours intensively following their massive break through. It's revealed early on that Hansard and Irglová had a romance that dissolved but their connection remained strong. The film introduces Hansard's small-town Irish family, his mother bursting with pride (and a heaping helping of common sense), and his staunch alcoholic father, an ex-champion boxer who gave it up to be a family man. We meet Irglová's family as well, but in general their Czech disposition seems reserved and there's not much face time with them.
Irglová was only 19 when she won an Oscar, while Hansard was 18 years her senior, so the two have completely different reactions to their sudden fame. Hansard, having many years before achieved some success as a cast member in The Commitments, felt that his success was his reward, though equally aware that it is fleeting, and fell into a somewhat depressive funk. Irglová meanwhile rallies against the sudden success, even in her young age she understands the dangers of fame and certainly doesn't court it. The tour in the film is heated but the art does win out in the end. Even at 88 minutes the film is overlong, and somewhat repetitive, but does provide interesting insight into artistic success and an emotional connection to the real people behind the band, the film, and the Oscar ceremony. Really, it would be great at half the length as a bonus feature on the Once DVD. As is, a must only for big fans of the film or the band.