Glen Hansard had once been one of the fresh-faced Irish kids behind the hilarious and unlikely (but genuine and heartfelt) soul music revival of 1991’s The Commitments. To see him a decade and a half later as the haggard Dublin street busker at the beginning of Once is bracing (and surely a movie in itself). In John Carney’s romantic musical, Hansard is an acoustic troubadour with obvious talent but far-from-obvious prospects. But then his nameless character meets a lovely young Czech immigrant, also nameless (played by Marketa irglova), and they’re soon making beautiful music together.
Alas, he soon learns her heart belongs to another, but she sticks around long enough to inspire him to make a demo and reach for his dream while he still can, and he provides her with a musical gift as well. You don’t have to know about the movie’s incredible life-imitates-art parallels (Hansard and Irglova really did fall in love, form a band called the Swell Season, find stardom and win an Oscar because of their songwriting from Once, and then end their romance) to appreciate this bittersweet love story, or the thoroughly rousing acoustic music that underscores it.