TIFF13 - Can A Song Save Your Life?

Before writing this review, I googled the movie simply to see whether or not there is a question mark in the title - of course there is.  As the results filtered in, I noticed some negative reviews of the film, calling into question the not-so-original plot, and the complicated will-they-won't-they nature of the relationship at its core.

First of all, I have to say that I am writing this review as someone who loved "Once", the film's predecessor from the same director.  Before I bought my ticket for the TIFF screening this Saturday, I read the blurb on the film page, and noticed that the plot is quite similar to that of "Once", with the main difference being a change in geography.  "Can a Song Save Your Life?" takes place in New York instead of Dublin, centres around a record exec, and features much more of an all-star cast than the slightly more homegrown "Once", which featured experienced musicians who were inexperienced actors. 

Everything about CASSYL is bigger in scale, and in star-power, however the heart of the film is the same.  The plot hinges on broken people who have screwed up or been screwed over, and find refuge in creating beautiful, honest, and altogether reparative music with a stranger.  "Reparative" is key in this equation, because by building an album, track by track, the characters are also shown to be putting themselves back together.  (My spell check is now telling me that "reparative" is not a word, but I whole-heartedly disagree.)

Despite the change in locale, and the very different dynamics, the original songs in the film feel like cousins of those in "Once", and seem to encapsulate everything the movie is trying to get across.  They feel frail and delicate at their introduction, and are built up throughout the 100 minutes until they become powerful anthems in their eventual performances.  A highlight for me was Adam Levine's character performing "Lost Stars" at a concert towards the end. 

"Can a Song Save Your Life?" is simply an exploration of maintaining truth in art, music and relationships, and it stays true to the messages of "Once", but also holds its own surprises.