Keira Knightley on the set of Begin Again

“There’s Keira Knightley, who looks cool while I look homeless behind her. You don’t sleep or shave when you make films. We shot in the East Village. Small crew, no lights.”

Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a former prince of the record industry, stumbles around New York, addled by booze and mad with self-pity. Blindly pushing his way into a random bar, he happens upon a young singer-songwriter named Gretta (Keira Knightley), who is giving a vulnerable but promising performance at an open mic. So begins Begin Again, the Irish filmmaker John Carney’s stirring Cinderella tale of Dan and Gretta’s simultaneous resurrection, musical and otherwise, as she records her debut album on the most artfully bohemian streets, alleyways, and rooftops in Manhattan. “I’m not a saccharine person,” Carney says. “But I do have a glass-half-full philosophy of life.”

In other hands, Gretta’s rock star ex, Dave (played by Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine), might have been merely a one-dimensional villain. But in Carney’s well-developed script, Dave, who dumped Gretta the minute he hit it big, takes pains to make good on his mistakes. “There’s a little bit of myself in all the roles,” says Carney, who learned firsthand about the pitfalls of fast fame after his low-budget 2006 film, Once, became an indie smash (and a Tony-winning Broadway adaptation). “Any success you have is a test of character.”