| A boy growing up in Dublin during the 1980s escapes his strained family life by starting a band to impress the mysterious girl he likes.
For many people, garage bands are synonymous with adolescence and its associated yearnings for identity, independence and fun. The Irish-produced Sing Street (2016) steps into this space with a more complex mixture of ingredients than is usual for such films. Described as a musical comedy, it is also a coming-of-age romance and a period film set against themes of economic recession, family discord and school bullying. Director/writer John Carney prefers to call it a ‘stealth musical’: one that sneaks up on audiences who otherwise might not choose to see a traditional musical. Whatever you call it, this in one of the most engaging and enjoyable films of the year so far.
“Sing Street” features a whole lot of talent – on both sides of the camera – and the microphone. Carney’s direction and his script are sensitive, engaging and fun. The story has a lot going on, but still keeps things simple, and derives its entertainment value from a variety of sources. The drama comes from following the development of the band, the relationship between Conor and Raphina, the relationships within Conor’s house and Conor’s problems at school. The comedy comes from the behavior of the film’s colorful characters and the natural awkwardness of teenagers discovering life.
Carney says the film is “wish fulfillment of all of the things I wanted when I was the age of the character and didn’t do.” To portray a fictionalized version of his own adolescence, he cast unknown, but talented actors – with terrific results. Raynor creates an interesting and passionate character, who is dealing with the fear that life is passing him by. For their part, Walsh-Peelo and McKenna, besides being fine young actors, are talented musicians in real life – all the better to perform the film’s excellent original songs.
“No woman can truly love a man who listens to Phil Collins.”
When “Sing Street” works, it works. The film is composed of simplistic cinematography that helps capture an enlightened look of (often gloomily portrayed) Ireland. The performances are all superb, especially the chemistry between the lead performances of newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Cosmo), and the beautiful Lucy Boynton. The supporting cast is great, but the best moments often come from the under-utilized fellow band-mates, who are hilarious. Most importantly, the energy of the original music, and the scenes enveloped around the various compositions, are beautiful. Every song is fitting for the era, and deeply meaningful. I suspect this soundtrack will go very far in the future. Although it’s a little unrealistic that these kids can write quality songs right out of the block. It would have been fun to hear a real stinker when they’re starting out. I use to produce music with friends and believe me, our first attempts are pretty damn bad (but fun). That’s true even for the all-time best.
Frieda Walsh-Peelo does a fine job, although not leading man quality yet, he carries the film considerably well for his first acting role. Although I didn’t find his vocal ability to be that impressive, he certainly does a good job. It will be exciting to see what other projects he tackles in the future. Lucy Boynton is stunning and so believable as the sure-footed and mysterious Raphina – she really wears the eighties wardrobe well as she fully embodies this role, rather than the other way around. Early on, her character is saved from Manic-Pixie-Dreamgirl syndrome and she becomes a real, imperfect, three-dimensional character. Boynton’s light, airy voice lends to her character’s naiveness, which is a stark contrast to the image she projects.
There seems to be some confusion with this film, if it was made for adolescents or older audiences or just John Carney. I would have to agree with all three. I found Sing Street similar to a Pixar film in that it’s marketed toward the younger set with a story that doesn’t get too ugly but is pulled off well with a strong message. References that only adults will get will go over kids’ heads. But ultimately – this is a movie for and by John Carney. And that is why is it so unlike Begin Again – Sing Street has it’s own voice and identity.
Overall, the message is so clear and true in this film. The world Carney places his story in is so rich that it refuses to lack depth despite it’s expected younger audience. There are relatable subplots about family and marriage, the bond between brothers, oppression in society, and the desire to achieve your dreams despite where you come from. Admittedly, there are some underused characters who still manage to naturally add charisma and charm. Perhaps a missed opportunity, but the rest of the band members fall to the wayside to make room for Cosmo and Raphina’s boy- meets-girl plot. This could’ve easily become a completely different film about the band itself and made into an ensemble’s story. However, Sing Street is much more than that – it’s a personal journey through adolescence. It’s about daring to dream beyond what is put in front of you.