Kiki Penoyer and Roland Carette-Meyers watch Once, a film that is a big part of their personal life stories, while conversing on Facebook Messenger. This is the result.
Hello. I’m Kiki Penoyer, and I would say that if there are two facts about me that literally every person who’s even seen my face knows, they are that A, I’m a crazy cat lady, and B, I fucking love musicals. I love them. Movie musicals are no exception—my childhood obsession with Rock-a-Doodle sparked a lifelong love affair, even after movie musicals have occasionally bastardized the source material (Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd), made sincerely questionable casting decisions (Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd), or artistic decisions (Johnny Depp’s wig in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, everything about Johnny Depp in Into the Woods, everything about Johnny Depp in general)—I’ve even continued to proudly love movie musicals even after exiting the crushing mediocrity of La La Land and screaming angrily in the car ride home about how much I hated what this terrible fucking movie is going to do for the genre.
I am joined for today’s 10YA by none other than my favorite person, Roland Carette-Meyers. Roland very famously does not like musicals. Roland also thinks Rainier is “good” beer, so clearly he cannot be trusted on anything.
But the one thing on which he and I agreed, even from the very confusing early days of our knowing one another and trying to figure out what on earth these ~*FEELINGS*~ were, was Once. He liked it as an indie film junkie and music nerd. I, naturally, liked it as a movie musical nerd and a child of the general Irish aesthetic. The first time we watched it together, in our dingy-as-fuck first apartment, I was plagued by the uncomfortable stirring of something in my heart that told me that this story was suddenly familiar for an unexpected reason: The guy sitting next to me, my frequent artistic collaborator and very best friend, was somehow always (I thought) going to be somehow just a step away from me, separated from me by an invisible force I could not comprehend. The Guy and Girl in this movie obviously have great chemistry and write some rad songs together, but ultimately (spoilers?) end up returning to unsatisfying (and possibly very damaging) relationships with other people. Imagine being barely old enough to drink and having an existential crisis on whether or not you were going to spend the rest of your life choosing things that make you miserable because it’s what you know instead of taking a risk on the thing that might make you happy.
SPOILERS though, we’re married now. I actually walked down the aisle to “Gold,” otherwise known as The Song with The Dancing Violins From The Tony Awards; we scraped up some dimes to poor-kid our way through New York to see the show live in 2013 and it was fucking great. This story, though obviously definitely on the self-indulgent-sadness train that was really common in 2007, has been a big part of our story. So, for our first ever collaborative rewatch, we decided to sit down, mix a mojito, and share some running commentary on this sad little indie flick we love so much.
Let’s watch Once together!: A Play in ONE ACT
Curtain rises on best friends ROLAND and KIKI and their respective Facebook Messengers.
ROLAND: Hi. I love you. Ready to do the “live chatting through a sad sulky indie flick” thing?
KIKI: I WAS BORN READY
ROLAND: Open on scarfy singing in front of the Macy’s.
KIKI: Irish Roger Davis
ROLAND: that other dude just jerked it in the alley… he’s drunk and sad
KIKI: He’s Irish. Of course he’s drunk and sad.
ROLAND: What movie do we ACTUALLY want? this one–or the bromance between Glen and his likely drunk public masturbating brother.
KIKI: Honestly I think the other one would be less sad
ROLAND: [NAME OF FRIEND OMITTED] got drunk with Glen a lot when she was working in NYC and he was putting Once on Broadway. I guess Glen is not super fun to party with
KIKI: Of fucking course they did.
ROLAND: he gets all serious drunk and sad and makes everyone do storytelling circles
KIKI: Okay but listen. No one is on [FRIEND’S] level in terms of fun to party with, so that’s probably not really fair. Also does he not realize all those stores are hella closed? Like no one wants to give you dollar bills at 9pm, Glen. These employees are trying to lock up and go home. Fuck off.
ROLAND: SUDDENLY—A CZECH LADY APPEARS
KIKI: LMAO she is literally holding a magazine that says ‘Issues.’
Glen and Czech Lady go to Glen’s apartment. It is sad and small and probably has a towel rolled up under the door more often than not.
ROLAND: Cool how he lives in a dorm.
KIKI: Where are your pillowcases, Glen?
ROLAND: He traded them for his velociraptor claw necklace. …America 2017: “What is wrong with it?” “It is fucked? It doesn’t suck up the dirt.”
KIKI: Listen, Glen, learn how to market yourself. Why aren’t you wearing like, an Irish National Scarf or something?
Glen and Czech Lady are suddenly in a music shop that is so shady you have to get buzzed in. They are going to play piano. The world is going to cry.
ROLAND: Why does Ireland bother having a national flag—they could just run a heavy sweater up a pole and we’d all get it. Also, wanna watch two sad coat racks with bed sheets draped over them win an Oscar?
KIKI: Omg get ready to fucking cry… are you ready to fucking cry?
“Falling Slowly” fucks you up.
ROLAND: THIS FUCKING SONG
KIKI: ‘Member when we saw this on Broadway and I wept hysterically and then they added this to the Starbucks playlist and I wept every time and had to start timing my pee breaks around it so as not to look like a loony.
ROLAND: This song just makes me hate “City of Stars” even more than I thought was possible
KIKI: Eat a dick, “City of Stars”—YOU WILL NEVER BE “FALLING SLOWLY.”
ROLAND: THIS is how you do sad white people not getting together in the end. Also, the real star of this scene? That lime green guitar over his shoulder
KIKI: It’s definitely drawing focus. Maybe he can trade in that shitty broke-ass acoustic for Limey McGreen back there.
ROLAND: He needs every item he owns to be as sad as he is (vv sad).
KIKI: He literally bought a nice guitar and distressed it so it would look more ~authentic.~ He’s up in his fuckin dorm room at night razoring his strings and shit.
Glen is now singing in a really loud and rude way on a city bus.
ROLAND: This is a public goddamn bus.
ROLAND: Fucking TALES OF THE C LINE
KIKI: I want to punch him in the nose rn, honestly. Shut the fuck up and let me ride the bus in peace.
ROLAND: Also why does her vacuum get its own seat?
KIKI: That vacuum is a valued member of the family, how dare you.
We are now in Glen’s Dad’s vacuum repair shop. He looks like an over-inflated Hobbit but seems nice.
ROLAND: This room looks like it smells like cold wet concrete and cigarettes.
KIKI: And like it’s consistently damp, and there’s a breeze even though none of the windows can open. Oh, good yes show her your awkward dorm-
Glen forces his demo tape on Czech Lady.
ROLAND: Oh good yes, make her listen to your mix tape *fire emoji times a million*
KIKI: Glen really knows how to woo ‘em. No, Glen. She does not want to stay the night. You are pushing forty and she is a teenager and you’re making it weird.
ROLAND: No one cares how lonely your penis is.
KIKI: “Oh hey sorry for hitting on you awkwardly in my dorm, but uh, wanna listen to a mix of my shitty lonely white guy music?” All girls are too nice and men do not deserve us tbh.
Smash cut to Glen following Czech Lady home in a little bit of a creepy manner. We see the first and only person of color in this whole movie. He gets two lines and no name.
ROLAND: 25 minutes in—our first person of color
KIKI: What is Ireland’s typical racial makeup like? Is this like, totally normal, to only see white people all day, or…?
ROLAND: 15% of Irish citizens are people of color, I bet they have names and actual lives.
KIKI: Yes but this story is about Glen Hansard’s sorrow hard-on, not anyone else’s actual lives. … “I can write lyrics for you…FOR MONEY.” (Suddenly, Czech Lady is listening to Glen’s demo on a portable CD player.) Wow remember diskmans? Diskmen? What’s the plural of DiscMan? Fuck it, shitty portable CD players
ROLAND: Disc platoon.
The world cracks open at how clever Roland is. Kiki does not react quite like he would have wanted her to.
Cut to Glen watching home movies of his ex-girlfriend who seems kind of not really into being filmed all the time.
ROLAND: oh… oh Glen stop this… I… don’t like this
KIKI: No wonder you’re not over her yet, homes. This is fuckin’ weird.
ROLAND: He is actually fucking singing at old videos of her, and like—that is just one commercial break and Liv Benson monologue away from being a murder/suicide.
KIKI: Dude right. Like, this is the video montage they discover at minute 32 when they raid his house.
Glen and Czech Lady start a band to record his album. He cajoles a whole (disc)platoon of musicians into doing this for him for free.
KIKI: Again, Glen, if you’re gonna demand this girl be in your band, you best be offering to pay her. This is really irresponsible, but at the same time, how often did I skip work or school to hang out with you in the early days of knowing each other. Also it’s worth noting to everyone Roland just held my hand real hard listening to “Gold.”
ROLAND: I did not even cry. New thought: The guitarist guy looks like he got out of jail last week for grifting.
KIKI: And pretty sure Muttonchops McMullet is like, thirteen at best. This piano line is Vanessa Carlton AF. (Glen removes his scarf) Oh, this is why you wear scarves all the time. Because of that scary fucking neck vein.
ROLAND: It’s like a finger, like a ghost trying to gag him
KIKI: Glen Hansard ate his twin in utero and it’s trying to escape from his neck.
ROLAND: We have been spelling that wrong the whole time: OSCAR WINNER Glen Hansard
KIKI: Oh shit sorry, I think you mean, Oscar and Grammy and Olivier and Whatsonstage.com Award Winner Glen Hansard THANK you. (We have just received a correction from the booth, apparently Glen also DID win the Tony, as he was a producer on the show, so apologies to Mr. Hansard for mispronouncing it twice; It should in fact be Oscar and Grammy AND TONY and Drama Desk and Olivier and Whatsonstage.com Award Winner Glen Hansard.) Apparently Glen and Czech Lady started hooking up on the set of this movie. And dated for like, two or three years. And now she lives in Iceland with two kids married to someone else. And she’s my age.
ROLAND: Let’s move to Iceland
KIKI: I hear they eat a lot of black licorice there, though, which makes them a nation of monsters.
ROLAND: —and shark and shit like that.
Apparently we’re done at the recording studio because now we’re driving on a beach. Or on the grey clod flat bits that count for beaches in Ireland.
KIKI: This man should not be driving. He’s been awake literally all night. This is v dangerous. (A DOG appears) Did—did Glen Hansard kidnap a dog and steal its frisbee?
Glen and Czech Lady are now debriefing after their Frisbee theft and recording adventure. Glen has six CDs in his hands.
KIKI: “I’m not gonna come back to your house, because if I do, we’ll just fuck, and you’re emotionally unavailable.” The Song of my Junior Year
ROLAND: Isn’t that how we got started?
ROLAND: that’s the shit that SHOULD be published—10YA: How Roland and Kiki got together.
KIKI: Where’s the lie tho?
ROLAND: Is Glen that fucking guy who grabs the iPod and plays DJ at the party and puts on a lot of Bright Eyes and gets mad at all of us for not being into it? Also, it is 2007, get a cell phone.
Glen is that fucking guy that ruins your house party.
KIKI: DUDE MY THOUGHTS EXACTLY LIKE—where did he even FIND a payphone?! Oh god, now he’s being sad in an airport. Listen, this is too real.
Glen doesn’t find a cell phone.
ROLAND: Does Zach Braff ever watch this movie and go like. “Fuck: THAT’S WHAT I TRIED TO DO!”
Zach Braff laments how close to not bad Garden State was, and yet how far.
KIKI: Okay so like, sidebar tho—First of all: How the fuck did this broke piece of shit who can’t afford pillowcases buy a damned piano? You just spent all your money on those six CDs and your plane ticket. Like… like this is so sad though. Her husband is a piece of shit who doesn’t appreciate her art and his girlfriend fled to London to get away from him like… neither of you should be with those people. Let’s do a sequel where they both figure it the fuck out and break up with them and lead independent lives uninhibited by their emotional baggage. We’ll call it Twice.
This movie never gets made.
ROLAND: Hey, thanks for watching Once with me, I love you.
Movie ends, Kiki and Roland wash their faces and watch an episode of The Amazing Race, still not entirely sure of what they’ve learned here.
The thing about Once is that it’s sad and it’s self-indulgent. There are times I wanted to smack Glen Hansard in the face and tell him to get over himself and stop accosting people with his shitty sad white guy guitar wank. I ended it feeling even sadder—and not in that “Oh man this movie is sad and it hurts so good to feel things” way, but in a genuine “Wow, Girl deserved so much fucking better than this.”
Because honestly (YEAH I’M DOING THE THING AGAIN) the story exploits Girl pretty heavily. We meet her as she is watching Guy sadly scream outside Irish Macy’s. She helps him write “Falling Slowly,” which he’s been struggling to work out. He then offers her free vacuum cleaner repair in exchange for attempting to hit on her in his awkward Adult Dorm, and then hunts her down and ignores her signals to leave her alone, and forces his mix tape on her for her to critique/rewrite. In spite of him not really having done anything to suggest this older dude is worthy of her time, she DOES it, helps him rewrite a ton of shit, listens to his whine about his ex, gets him clothes, gets him a loan, negotiates a recording studio for him, and plays on his demo album—songs she helped rewrite, but he is the one that walks away holding the stack of CDs. He doesn’t at any point offer to pay for any of this labor, emotional or artistic, in spite of discovering she lives in a tiny flat with her mother and small child and her husband is still back home and unable to afford to join them right away—until he finds out she might be having an emotional affair, at which point said husband sure does find some money right quick. SPEAKING OF THAT SHITTY HUSBAND, the only real info we have on him is that she once wrote him a love song and he was super shitty about it and the memory of it made her cry and she thinks he is an idiot and UGH.
So in spite of ALL THAT, in the end, what does she get? Guy somehow magically finds the money to buy a piano to cram into her tiny flat, and she is shown staring listlessly out a window with her shitty husband in the background, while Guy goes off to become a famous rock star and chase his dreams and love.
HOW SHITTY IS THIS ENDING. Like when I first saw it, I was all MMM YEAH THE ANGST GIT IT. But honestly, watching it now, I am appalled and tired of this woman having broken herself (often skipping work to do so, at his behest) to help this guy achieve his dream, but then she has to go back to being a broke teen mom with a husband she hates. He has hope, but she has none. And while I get that the idea is that it’s supposed to be realistic—real people choose their obligations every day over fleeting dreams, and we actually don’t learn enough about Girl to know whether she HAS any unfulfilled dreams she isn’t chasing (although that long pan-out from her sad face in the window suggests for sure she is.) I think a lot of this gets reshaped in the musical; it gets turned into less of a “There is no hope for me ever” into “There is no hope for me with you.” Which is true. Guy has some emotional baggage he is refusing to shed, and until he does, he won’t be happy with anyone. But the musical feels a liiiiittle more equitable in its storytelling.
But listen. I do love this movie. I still do. I am going to remind myself not to idolize it because the storytelling choices could be less White Guy Centric and that’s a lesson we can always always always continue to learn and relearn, even about our favorite pieces of art. And I love it because “Gold” still makes my husband cry thinking about our wedding, and that’s precious, so like… That’s all I have to say about that.