Circumstances of watching it: I'd just got back home from seeing ewtikins and hairyears off, and was settling down with tea and my flist when Joanna called me and asked if I wanted to go to the cinema with her and her mother. I was a bit tired, and it was exceptionally cold outside, but I thought, why not be sociable. And indeed it was a lovely evening; Joanna won a lottery for an Easter egg, and we had a nice chat over tea afterwards, so I'm glad I braved the cold night.
Verdict: Once is a bit slow-moving but quite charming.
Once is a kind of antidote to rom com stereotypes. There isn't much plot: boy meets girl, they record an album together, and finally decide they're not really suited after all. About three quarters of the way through I was thinking, what is going on here? There is no jeopardy at all! And it turned out that someone decided to make a film about a subject you never see in the cinema, namely people not falling in love. There is no supposedly romantic miscommunication, (though there isn't excessive discussion and IC analysis either). Just some people getting to know eachother and deciding against acting on the initial attraction.
In some ways it's a slightly dull film, given the lack of either psychological or physical drama. And this isn't helped by a large number of prolonged sequences showing the two leads making music together and not progressing the action at all. But it's sweet, it gets the audience emotionally invested in the characters, and works as a slice of life or character study. It did veer a little bit towards being a feature-length promo for a non-existent band, but there is a story there, albeit a slight one. I didn't love the music, since it's a genre I'm not keen on, emo with a slightly celtic tinge, but I found it plausible that the song could be a hit.
The other way it confounds Hollywood expectations is that it's set in Ireland, but it's an Ireland that actually has cities in it, including run-down areas and ordinary, unglamourous people getting on with their lives. There are some pretty landscape shots, but they are plausible images of the Irish Sea coast under a grey sky, not the Hollywood idea of fairyland.
I'm a little biased towards the film just because Glen Hansard as the lead is rather gorgeous. Not in the normal Hollywood mode of being either over-muscled or looking as if he'd have trouble buying alcohol, but really attractive and with a very expressive face. He's also nearly 40, and it's a minor plot point in the film that he's actually a mature adult, not a college kid who gets rom coms made about him. I feel a little bit guilty for noticing him so much, cos he does look a little bit like the stereotype that annoying people have in mind when they say "Irish men are so sexxxeeee lol!!!!1", with red hair and bright blue eyes. But if I tried to deny having a thing for redheads, nobody would take me seriously.
The film was a little anachronistic, in that most of it was set in an era before mobile phones and when you needed serious money to hire a recording studio in order to make decent quality sound samples, but the scenes in the airports were clearly contemporary. But that's just me being annoyingly pedantic.