John Carney (Once and Begin Again) has become the master of the romantic-musical-dramedy, and his irresistible latest film Sing Street, his most personal – mined from his own experiences as a youth – and best to date, is a charming feel-good portrait of ’80s Dublin. With a truly awesome nostalgic Brit-pop soundtrack featuring The Cure, Duran Duran, Hall & Oates and Joe Jackson, likeable, engaging performances from the talented young cast and a poignant examination of teenage romance, brotherly love, and the power of music to provoke creativity, unite, define, rebel and change your life, Sing Street is a joy to behold. Read why it is one my favourite films of the year after the jump.
With his parents (Aiden Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) struggling to remain a civil household, and forced to downsize amidst Ireland’s crippling recession, middle child Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) finds himself relocated from the comforts of his private school to a tough inner city public school, where he is immediately bullied and struggles to fit in. After summoning the courage to talk to the beautiful and mysterious Raphina (Lucy Boynton), in his attempts to impress her he ends up inviting her to star in his [non-existent] band’s music video.
With this newfound inspiration he eventually convinces budding entrepreneur Darren (Ben Carolan), multi-instrumentalist (and rabbit fanatic) Eamonn (Mark McKenna), and several other schoolmates to form a band. With positive re-enforcement from his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), Conor and ‘Sing Street’ recreate themselves, dropping their initial ’80s covers and begin writing their own songs. For Conor music serves as a brave form of self-expression, an opponent to the conservative authoritarianism, parental failings, and dreary future he and his schoolmates are facing, but also becomes the catalyst for his first experiences with love.
Walsh-Peelo does a fantastic job of conveying the insecurities of an teen outcast – he is a kid newly inspired, with something he cares for and is willing to fight for – but his confidence and showmanship at the mic is convincing. Boynton masks her loneliness and fragility with her dress and make-up, but she’s also genuinely inspired by Conor’s all-or-nothing attempt to not only woo her, but follow through on something and give life a good crack. So many young Dubliners at this time had found their dreams evaporate, and Raphina finds herself betrayed by her older boyfriend. She realises, through Conor, that anything is possible – no matter the situation of your life.
The terrific Reynor (and if you haven’t seen his work in What Richard Did and Glassland seek it out) portrays Brendan as a smart-mouthed but realistic and stand-up guy who suppresses a mild bitterness to wholeheartedly support his younger brother. He harbours disappointment that his hopes and dreams have never been realised. In a late scene, his frustrations come out, and he tearfully reveals to Conor how hard he is hurting, and puts him in his place: “you get to follow the path that I macheted”. He has been offering wisdom, and is Conor’s closest creative alliance, because he doesn’t want to see his brother miss his big chance to make something with his life.
What I loved about this film was its surprising depth; offering an affecting look at how people’s lives lead them away from their dreams, and how they find a way to live with that. A particularly moving sequence involves Brendan and Conor observing their mother as she sits on the front porch the sun, enjoying a glass of wine; a moment of tranquility before her husband returns home. Brendan can already relate to this, clutching to the little things he enjoys about his day, but Conor still has his eyes to the skies (or across the Irish Sea) and has yet to lose his youthful optimism.
Like Begin Again part of the the narrative thrust emerges through the live street-recording of the band’s tracks. Here, Sing Street are recording music videos in back alleys; costumed and made-up, with their instruments adorned with makeshift props. Their practices are done in the Eamonn’s living room. It is this daggy amateur inventiveness that hooked me. Their first music video, to a song called ‘The Riddle of the Model’, one of the original songs written for the film, was absolutely awesome. While I wish the songs were recorded live there is a invigorating energy to these tracks, their lyrics and messages complementing the tougher realities of the drama.
Sing Street is a wonderfully authentic, sweet-natured tale of music’s life-saving abilities, highlighting a decade that style forgot. Despite some early butterflies, it continues to improve alongside its characters as they unlock their musical talents, punctuated with numerous addictive musical sequences, and rousing emotional moments. It is infectiously optimistic and charming.
By Andrew Buckle
Director: John Carney
Writer(s): John Carney
Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Mark McKenna
Runtime: 106 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: July 14, 2016