Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Aiden Gillen, Jack Reynor, Kelly Thornton
Director: John Carney
Writer: John Carney
John Carney has an intuitive understanding of the power of music in film that few other directors possess. In Once and Begin Again, music is a means of expression for the characters that reaches the audience in ways simple dialogue can’t. He finds value not only in the performance but in the creation of music as well. He uses music as a bridge between fantasy and reality. The music in his films can cross barriers, evoke memories and speak the unspeakable. In Once, for instance, he demonstrated how a couple could use music to express a romance that could never be allowed to happen in either statement or action. The effect captured in these films is a raw and delicate one, feeling at the same time both viscerally real and romantically impossible. In Sing Street Carney takes the effect even further by nostalgically harkening back to a lost time in 1980s Dublin where he reflects on both the memories and dreams of his youth.
It is 1985 in Dublin and Conor Lalor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a young schoolboy going through a rough time. His parents Robert (Aiden Gillen) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) are on the verge of separating and money is tight, meaning that Conor has to be pulled out of his private school and sent to a free state-school where he becomes an outcast. Across the street from this school Conor glimpses the beautiful Raphina (Lucy Boynton) and decides to talk to her. He learns that she plans on becoming a model and asks if she would like to be in a video for his band, a band that doesn’t actually exist yet. With the help of his schoolmates Darren (Ben Carolan), a budding entrepreneur, and Eamon (Mark McKenna), a talented multi-instrumentalist, Conor forms a rock group called Sing Street. Using the education in rock and roll provided by his brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), Conor undergoes a musical journey of self-discovery and love.
With Sing Street Carney has made what is easily one of the most charming and enjoyable films of the year. As in his previous films, the music is sublime and works here on two fronts. The songs are great simply as 80s style pop songs with clear influences from such groups as Duran Duran and The Clash, but they also work marvellously in relation to the story and characters. One highlight is ‘The Riddle of the Model’, Conor’s synthesised ode to Raphina, the video for which exemplifies the classic 80s rock video through and through despite being shot in a Dublin alley on a VHS camcorder. The film’s best sequence however is the performance of ‘Drive It Like You Stole It’, a fantasy where Conor imagines for a moment that all of his problems can be solved with an upbeat choreographed dance number like in the movies. It is this scene, more than any other, that best demonstrates Carney’s astonishing ability to create a film that is both cheerfully optimistic and heartbreakingly sad at the same time.
There is hardly a weak link in the cast so it’s difficult to decide who to single out for praise. Obviously newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is to be commended for playing Conor, a young romantic going through a difficult time in his life and discovering music as a way to cope with it all. Lucy Boynton also shines as Raphina, an aspirational girl who isn’t as confident or indifferent as she pretends to be. Although both characters are fanciful in their worldviews and ambitions, the romance between them is hardly a fairy tale. Through the disappointment, disillusionment and heartbreak that they both experience, they learn the hard way that life isn’t always going to work out the way they want it to. They do however learn more about each other and themselves and are stronger, wiser and more hopeful for it. I also want to single out Jack Reynor as Brendan, the older brother who wasted his chance and wants to save Conor from making the same mistakes that he made.
Although there are some hard life lessons to be learned by these characters, Sing Street is nevertheless a hopeful film that holds a soft spot for dreams and fancies. The film is a marriage between kitchen sink realism and musical fantasy that moves, saddens and delights. It is a coming of age story that captures the angst, awkwardness and troubles of youth but also the impulsiveness, fancifulness and optimism. It is a nostalgic film that recalls the good times fondly and the bad times pensively. Fans of the 80s will certainly get a kick out of the wonderful soundtrack which features a good mix of original songs as well as some classics by Genesis, The Jam and Spandau Ballet, amongst others. Sing Street is an irresistibly charming film created by a master of cinematic music that will make you laugh, cry and smile throughout.