Movie Review: Sing Street (2016)
“Boy meets girl, girl unimpressed, boy starts band”
Sing Street (2016)
Director: John Carney
Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy
Synopsis: A young Dublin lad starts a band to impress the girl he fancies.
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The movie’s title is a bastardisation of Dublin’s Synge Street, which is where young Conor Lalor (Ferdie Walsh-Peelo) lives with his parents, his older brother, and his younger sister in the mid-1980s. Things aren’t great at home: mum (Maria Doyle Kennedy – Jupiter Ascending) and dad’s (Aidan Gillen – The Dark Knight Rises) marriage is disintegrating under the weight of financial problems, while Conor’s brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor) spends most of his time smoking pot and listening to music in his room. The family’s need to cut costs means that Conor has to change school, a prospect daunting enough to strike terror in every kid’s heart. His new seat of learning is a free state school in which he finds himself singled out for special treatment by its slightly psychopathic bully and the tyrannical headmaster. However, life is made bearable by the alluring Raphina (Lucy Boynton), who lives in the girls’ home across the street, and whom Conor invites to appear in a video for his band, even though he isn’t in one. So, when Raphina accepts his proposal, Conor has to round up enough kids to form one in double-quick time.
Fuelled by a wonderful soundtrack of classic ‘80s pop hits and a selection of new songs which brilliantly evoke the essence of mainstream music from the era, John Carney’s self-proclaimed ‘non-musical’ musical channels the same energy and exuberance found in classic Hollywood musicals, and even adapts the same ‘let’s put on a show right here in the barn’ plot for a modern audience.
Based on Carney’s own youthful experiences as a boy in Dublin, the film addresses the typical trials endured by teens seeking to establish their own identity in an often cruel and hostile school environment without plunging its audience into some depressing drama of teenage angst. In the absence of any meaningful parental guidance – his parents are peripheral figures in the story – Conor draws strength from the oddball group of boys who become the members of his band, in particular, Eamon (Mark McKenna), his rabbit-loving songwriting partner, and, through the songs they write, a means for expressing his love for Raphina.
Conor also finds a surrogate father figure in his older brother, Brendan, whose passive use of music as a means of escape is in direct contrast to his younger brother’s. To be honest, Brendan is the one character that feels out of place in Sing Street, which is a shame because, although it has at its heart a sweet love story between Conor and Raphina, the film is also a paean to how a person’s perspective can be moulded by fraternal influence. Dressed like a stoner hippy – Neil from The Young Ones springs to mind – Brendan looks like the kind of guy who would never let a Duran Duran LP anywhere near his music centre, and yet he waxes lyrical about their virtues, which is an incongruity that grates each time he delivers one of his mini-lectures on the merits of various ‘80s pop icons. However, he does get one of Sing Streets’ best lines when he solemnly intones that ‘no woman can truly love a man who listens to Phil Collins.’
Likeable, old-fashioned and unwaveringly optimistic, Sing Street shares the exuberant enthusiasm of its young cast (most of who are non-actors), and is undeserving of the comparisons to The Commitments which it receives solely because of its Dublin setting and musical theme. In fact, you could argue that, in one respect, Sing Street is the antithesis of The Commitments in that it demonstrates how music can enrich the lives of the bunch of misfit kids it unites and, while the talented group of musicians in The Commitments find that even the power of their music isn’t enough to overcome petty antagonism. Watch The Commitments if you want to listen to great music, but watch Sing Street if you want to be gently uplifted while listening to great music.
(Reviewed 7th August 2016)