“Once”, which I saw last night on DVD, is a musical. I’m probably as fond of musicals as any straight man is allowed to admit to being in polite company, but I recognise the problems of the form. Chief amongst these is the violence done to suspension of disbelief when people burst into song for no apparent reason. This just isn’t a normal reaction to, say, unwanted pregnancy, hanging, or Nazis. Passers-by spontaneously springing into oddly well-choreographed dance doesn’t help matters.
Once dodges this particular bullet by framing the songs in a story whose protagonists, being musicians, actually have plausible context for song-bursting-into. Films like The Blues Brothers and The Commitments have pulled this trick before, but here it is taken further, as the characters are singing about their situation in the manner of a traditional musical, but always in a way that doesn’t rip you out of the narrative. Even when the nameless female lead is wandering down the street in her pyjamas and in song, it’s done in such a way that you could almost, almost believe it might actually happen. Not quite, though - it is, after all, still a little bit of a fantasy.
The film as a whole is enjoyable, touching, and on a small, intimate scale. It feels more like a long TV drama than a feature film. As such, even though I’m not sure it would seem right on the big screen, it works very well on DVD. And very few bystanders dance at all.