3 Stars — Thought-provoking

If you want to learn how to swim, at some point you need to get out of the shallow end of the pool. Likewise, if you want to have a successful life with loving relationships, at some point you need to get out of the shallow end of life.

Such is the case with Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a music producer whose career and life are on a slippery slope to oblivion.

Into his life comes Gretta (Keira Knightley), a young starry-eyed singer-songwriter who has been dumped by her boyfriend, Dave (Adam Levine), just as his career skyrockets and beautiful women throw themselves at him. Both Dan and Gretta have become skeptical about the dubious nature of fame as well as the power of money to corrupt talent.

After getting dumped from the music company he founded, Dan ends up in a bar listening to a despondent Gretta struggle to complete a song. In her words, though, Dan senses great possibilities. Through a series of circumstances, Dan and Gretta end up collaborating on a series of songs that they record on the streets of New York and ultimately give away to the public over social media.

Born in despair, both of their lives are reborn, and their talent takes first priority over financial gain. Ironically, their self-effacing new lives attract back their former partners. Having originally fallen in love with their raw talent, they want back into a relationship.

What becomes the compelling core of the story is what lessons they learn along the way. Do they want their old lives back? What defines success? How important are real loving relationships — especially exemplified in Dan’s case with his teenage daughter?

There is no in-depth analysis here, or lessons in maturity that are transferable to most people. What we do see, though, is the grittiness of real lives and the struggles they go through to be open and honest with one another. The only heartbreak is that they have no one in their lives from social groups, churches, friends or family who can model good behavior and successful relationships for them. In that sense, this is a troubling indictment of our supposed “success model” in today’s culture. Fame and fortune are no substitutes for happiness.


» In your own life, what has been the source of your happiness? How did you discover this?

» The disappointments in our relationships often cause us to distrust others. How have you dealt with your own disappointments? Who came into your life who brought clarity?

» Fame and fortune promise so much, and yet the famous and rich people are often self-destructive. Why do you think this is often true? When is it not true?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.