I was hoping there was going to be more to this surprisingly well reviewed film than the standard issue, incredibly cliched romcom that the trailer seemed to hint at. Well, there is more to it, though it's a good reminder not to turn your nose up at the cliches; when the cliches are executed as flawlessly and sincerely as they are here, you remember that they became cliches in the first place because they're really awesome. Anyway, Mark Ruffalo's washed up record producer meets Keira Knightley's recently dumped singer-songwriter. And, you know, magic. But the writing is just a bit sharper than you might expect. Toward the end of the film, the script dodges a couple of cliched bullets in order to resolve things in a slightly different way than you'd expect.
And the cast really can't be overemphasized. Ruffalo is always an appealing, charismatic guy on screen, but this is also a surprisingly fine performance from him. There's a wordless look toward the end, probably ten seconds without any dialogue that is, I think, the finest acting he's ever done. And you wouldn't necessarily expect him to have phenomenal chemistry with Catherine Keener, playing his ex-wife, but, man, they really do. He and Knightley also work well together. And as a dyed in the wool non-fan of Knightley, I can say without hesitation that this is a genuinely great performance, easily her best. Throw in a hilariously wonderful James Cordon and a minimal and real Hailee Steinfeld and you've got a cast that can handle even the cliches with wit and grace.
And I mean there are flaws here. Some of the songs aren't that great, though a couple of them are fantastic. Adam Levine is in over his head from word one. And some of the scenes, including, unfortunately, the ones that play under the credits, are too cliched for saving. But other scenes are as hokey as they come in the summary, but hit home with genuine emotional heft. Some of this stuff just shouldn't work on a "serious" jaded guy like me, but it just does. At the end of the day, the film was a genuinely transcendent experience; the sadness, joy & hope I felt was real and powerful. Yes, there are flaws, but not enough for a downgrading. All in all, this was a great moviegoing experience. Highly recommended. 4 stars.