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Janna is a staff writer for The Hudsucker. Born and raised in a small Ontario town, she made her move to Toronto for university and immediately fell in love with the excitement and pace of the big city. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Production from York University, specializing in editing and screenwriting. She currently works as an assistant editor for a television production company. Janna loves stories told in all mediums, especially film, and takes herself to the movies as much as she possibly can. She can generally be found taking a Zumba class, exploring some of Toronto’s lesser-known gems, or relaxing with her fluffy feline roommate.

Janna Does TIFF: Can A Song Save Your Life?

Earnestly sweet, musical-based films set in New York City tend to be one of two things: overbearingly saccharine and sentimental, or touching and beautiful. I wasn’t expecting much from Can A Song Save Your Life?, but to my delight, it turned out to be the latter.

Credit Exclusive Media Group

Can A Song Save Your Life? is the second feature film from writer/director John Carney, his follow-up to his much-loved musical film Once. It’s the story of Greta (Keira Knightley), a talented but mousey English musician stuck in New York after a nasty breakup, and Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a music-industry executive whose entire life has fallen apart – thanks largely to himself. This unreliable, sloppy drunk stumbles across Greta performing in a bar – and although no one’s listening to her, Dan becomes entranced. The next thing we know, Dan is convincing Greta to stay in New York long enough to record an album – one recorded entirely outside, in various locations all over the five boroughs. And from there, our story begins.

Just like Once, Can A Song Save Your Life? revolves around music – while not a musical in the traditional sense of the word, music is engrained in the narrative every step of the way. The songs are lovely, a folksy type of music that’s somewhere between Norah Jones and Ingrid Michaelson, and it’s performed earnestly, with a real sense of genuine love. When characters tell us the music would sell, we agree. There’s an enchanting scene off the top of the film where Dan visualizes working on one of Greta’s songs, layering in effects and instruments, and it’s there that the film asks you to get on board. Believe in this man’s ear, it says, and in this woman’s talent. And I did.

Credit Exclusive Media Group

The film brings New York City alive through music and through the exploits of these characters, and another nice aspect of the story is the cast of supporting characters that pepper Dan and Greta’s life. Hailee Steinfeld is charming as Dan’s guitar-playing daughter, and watching her and Greta bond adds another nice layer and dynamic to these characters. In his first acting role, Adam Levine plays Greta’s musician ex-boyfriend Dave – and, shockingly, he’s incredibly convincing as a sweet-talking narcissist. But one of the nicest surprises of the film is the relationship between Dan and Greta itself. Played beautifully by Ruffalo and Knightley, the two characters dance the line between friendship and romance – but, ultimately, it’s never crossed. So few films leave the leads as friends as opposed to turning them into lovers, and that’s refreshing to me. Bonds between men and women don’t always need to be cemented physically, and it was nice to see the characters respect each other as musicians and as people without needing to add a physical element to their relationship.

In today’s entertainment industry, irony and disdain are everywhere – it’s rare to come across stories that are truly sweet, ones that wear their hearts on their sleeves. It may seem out of place, out of touch, or a little embarrassing compared to what else is being produced today, and not all viewers want to see something as genuinely sincere as this. But while some may not enjoy films like this, I do. If the cast has chemistry and the story is fulfilling, I enjoy going to the movies to feel transported and swept up in something earnest. Sometimes, I like leaving the theatre with a smile on my face and a warm feeling in my chest. And that’s exactly what Can A Song Save Your Life? gave me.


Can A Song Save Your Life? earned mixed reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival – largely depending on the mood of the reviewer at the time of seeing the film, it appears! Distribution rights have been acquired by The Weinstein Company. Release dates have yet to be announced.

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  1. Yes You Can | Clarabelle - November 12, 2013

    […] Janna Does TIFF: Can A Song Save Your Life? (thehudsucker.com) […]

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