I’m going to be straight up and say that I do not like musicals. Grease, Little Shop of Horrors, The Rocky Horror Picture Show; they all really annoy me but I might hate coming-of-age movies even more. For every Harold & Maude, you get ten Me and Earl and the Dying Girls. John Carney‘s previous films, Once and Begin Again, are interpretations of the coming-of-age musical with varying degrees of success. Once is the movie I’m more inclined to fall for with its tragic beats in the story and excellent music that works outside of the film, as well as in. But Sing Street is able to do more than just be tragic. It’s able to inspire.
In Dublin in 1985, the Lalor family are in the midst of crisis. Robert (Aidan Gillen), the head of the family, announces that Conor (Fedia Walsh-Peelo in his feature film debut) will have to transfer to another school without fees so the family can pay the bills. Conor’s siblings, the preoccupied older sister Ann (Kelly Thornton) and burnout brother Brendan (a great Jack Reynor), don’t seem to mind the change. Even Brendan is making light of the situation.
Starting at the new school, he suffers the wrath of a bully, makes new friends, and meets a girl. Yes, this could be a generic coming-of-age film. Conor sets his sights on a dropout/model, Raphina (Lucy Boynton). He tells her that he has a band (he doesn’t) and says he should star in their new video. Then we get the atypical montage sequence of getting a band together. A band full of wacky teenagers that just happen to play instruments and don’t seem to care what music they play.
But that’s the bad part. What works is almost everything else. The initial video starring Raphina could be torn from the first season of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords. Every sequence featuring music (created by Carney and Gary Clark, no relation to Gary Clark Jr) is appropriate for the song that is playing and captures the correct mood of the scenes that are around it. Most of the songs from the band, Sing Street (named after their school, Synge Street), are quite entertaining. Songs like “Up” and “Drive It Like You Stole It” would probably be huge hits if played on the radio. The rest of the soundtrack is rounded out by songs from Hall & Oates, Joe Jackson, The Jam and Duran Duran (which is featured in one of the best dialogue scenes in the film), among others.
The acting is also pretty good across the board. After many abysmal roles, Reynor happens to be quite fun and charming as Conor’s brother. Every little bit of information on his character is used over time and helps scenes later on. Walsh-Peelo is believable as Conor, if not annoying at times as most teenagers are. I don’t know if Carney tried to get Felicity Jones or not, but it sure seemed like he wanted her. Boynton is a near clone and it proved to be distracting at times. Nevertheless, her performance was solid.
What turns Sing Street into something more is how it uses its setting. Each character is suffering from Dublin’s terrible economy. Their family is torn apart, not just by each other, but the environment around them. There’s an interesting subplot with the Priest Headmaster of Synge Street that speaks about the abuse (not sexual this time) that children went through. Neglect is a theme that is explored effectively and moves these characters to a logical place in the film without feeling smothered by the cuteness of it all.
While it borders the line of overly cute and sweet, the film never forgets to have fun. Among the various songs, the characters are genuinely fun to be around. Without feeling like complete caricatures, the movie doesn’t forget to let the moments of sadness inform their psychology and help you understand who each person is. These characters are people who are not about to let their environment bring them down – it’s the escape that proves to be so much fun.
Sing Street makes it hard to hate it. Despite the initial opening of the film scaring me into thinking I was going to watch the movie I didn’t want to see, it subverted any trappings that the genre has by being honest. Carney has made a believable and honest film about youth. Corny and maudlin at times, Sing Street can’t help but be true to itself and, weirdly enough, that isn’t an insult this time.
- The tonal shifts work well throughout the course of the film
- The acting overall is very good, especially from Jack Reynor as the burnout brother
- The soundtrack is fantastic. New songs are fun, old songs are classics that fit well into the movie
- The setting is properly used and essential to the story it needs to tell
- Sing Street can feel clichéd at times