Charming, delightful and genuine, Sing Street is a must-see By Kaely Monahan
Music is, once more, the centerpiece of John Carney’s newest feature Sing Street. The Irish filmmaker, known for the heart warming Once, proves yet again his best work shines when the core of the story is music.
Set in the mid-1980s in Dublin, Sing Street introduces Ferida Walsh-Peelo as Conor. A 15-year-old who's life is flipped completely sideways. His parents, played by Adrian Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy, are separating. His music obsessed, pot-smoking older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor) is defiantly resigned and unplugged for all intents and purpose. The underutilized Kelly Thornton plays the sister Ann.
In the midst of the family upheaval, Conor is forced to leave his school to attend the less than distinguished Catholic school that's both rougher and cheaper than his former institution. Bullied by both teachers and students, Conor has to navigate a tumultuous home life as well as school. (The headmaster forces him to go about in his socks when he fails to show up wearing the requisite black shoes.)
But Carney doesn’t allow the film to bog down in melodramatics. There’s enough situational humor and clever scripting to lift the heavy themes up. Each character is lively and well fleshed out (except poor Ann).
Enter in the bodacious 16-year-old Raphina (Lucy Boyton). Conor sees her across the street from his school and is instantly star struck. She's unlike any girl he’s ever seen. His one friend at school reveals that she doesn't talk to anybody and there's no use in him trying to chat her up. But Conor is undeterred. Not to mention he's a clever lad. He comes up with a scheme to entice the elusive self-described model into meeting up with him. He tells her he has a band and they’re looking for a model to be in their music video.
The only problem is he doesn’t have a band. But that doesn’t stop him. He gets one together which includes the nerdy, rabbit loving, but music savvy Eamon (Mark McKenna) and the entrepreneurial Darren (Ben Carolan)—plus the only black kid in school (or all of Dublin)—Percy Chamburuka as Ngig. A few more boys round out the band, which has yet to figure out what kind of band they want to be.
They explore sounds, try their hand at covers and try to come up with a name. Their sound is truly awful at first, but utterly hilarious despite that. It’s eventually decided that they are “futurists.” It’s vague enough to be impressive without having to be specific. They call themselves Sing Street.
What starts off as a ploy to win the girl begins to evolve into something more for Conor. Guided by Brendan, Conor begins to truly craft himself into first a believable and then authentic artist. The band develops its unique style and improves. Raphina becomes the star and muse of the band, at least in Conor's mind.
As he dives further into his music, Conor begins to broadened his understanding of the world. He starts to notice all the little tragedies of other people, not just his own: Raphina as the orphaned, abused and misguided girl; Brendan as the musician who gave up on his dreams; his parents who married for convenience and are now breaking each other; the bully at school and his troubled home life—Conor begins to see that life is what you make of it and if you have a dream you have to chase it—whether it's getting the girl or running away to London.
Sing Street feels like Carney is revisiting the past through his characters. He invites the audience to do much the same, reliving all the hit music, MTV, the social and cultural upheavals (this is a time when divorce was not allowed in Ireland), and fashions trends. Even for those who didn’t grow up in the ’80s there is a strong sense of nostalgia running through this film.
At its core, Sing Street is a love story. It touches the heart so deeply and yet gently. Despite the heavy themes, the film is light and delightfully funny and—personally speaking—this is my new favorite John Carney film.
- Kaely Monahan is a journalist, graduate of City University London and the creator of Popcorn Fan Film Reviews. Follow her @PopcornFans and @KaelyMonahan.