Directed by: John Carney.
Written by: John Carney.
Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Conor), Lucy Boynton (Raphina), Jack Reynor (Brendan), Aidan Gillen (Robert Lalor), Maria Doyle Kennedy (Penny), Kelly Thornton (Ann), Ian Kenny (Barry), Ben Carolan (Darren), Percy Chamburuka (Ngig), Mark McKenna (Eamon), Don Wycherley (Brother Baxter).
Like his previous films, Once and Begin Again, John Carney’s Sing Street is a sweet, entertaining film about the power of music. The film is certainly steeped in nostalgia, and Carney has perhaps tried a little too hard to make the film into a slick crowd pleaser. Overall though, Sing Street is a film that is enjoyable throughout – a film in a minor key, that earns both the laughs and tears it eventually draws from the audience. And, like the previous two films, the music is terrific.
It’s the 1980s, in Ireland and 15 year old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is being pulled out of his school, and being sent to learn with the Catholic Brothers – his parents are struggling financially, and their marriage is falling apart. Conor is miserable at the new school – that is until he spies Raphina (Lucy Boynton) standing across the street from the school. She’s a year older, has an even older boyfriend, and informs Conor that she is a model – and will be heading to London soon. Conor says she should star in a music video for his band before she goes – and she agrees. The only problem – he has no band, cannot really play an instrument, and has never written a song before.
The movie then becomes about Conor gathering that band, and learning how to write a song and perform. Their influences are many and varied – mainly because Conor seemingly doesn’t know much about music at first – so whatever band his slacker older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor) introduces him to, that is what their next song sounds like. The two main relationships in the film are between Conor and Raphina – that, like the relationships between Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova in Once and Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley in Begin Again may never actually involve romance, but starts to grow deeper than that. The difference here is that it is clear that Conor is in love with Raphina, and as the movie progresses, maybe she feels the same way. Until she makes her decision however, she advises Conor to find “happiness in sadness” – which is what love really is.
But, as is appropriate for a film that is dedicated to “Brothers Everywhere”, the best relationship in the film is between Conor and Brendan. Reynor, who has been building a solid resume in the past few years (and did a Transformers movie), at first makes Brendan into the personification of the “cool”, older brother, guiding their younger brother into the world of great music. As the film progresses, though Brendan gains more depth – there is a deep sadness to him. He’s only in his early 20s, and yet he seems to have given up – he is living vicariously through his younger brother. It is something that truly, I wish the movie concentrated on this relationship even more – we’ve seen lots of movies about young teenage love (even if Sing Street handles that aspect well) – fewer with a brotherly relationship like this at its core. The moment that made me cry is all Reynor – it’s his final shot in the movie, and it’s a great one.
Then, of course, there is the music. Carney has always been able to fill his films with great, memorable original songs – in Once, it all comes from Hansard and Irglova, but Carney has become more involved in it as the films progressed. No, I don’t believe that any high school band would or could write songs this good – especially from where they start (the film isn’t like the charming Swedish film, We Are the Best – where the song they come up with is good – but also believably comes from the girls in the band) – but when the music is this memorable, that seems like a minor complaint.
Yes, Sing Street is perhaps a little too slick and sheen – a little too engineered to be a crowd pleaser, and you can feel it at times. But, the film is still a crowd pleaser regardless of that. Carney may not be stretching himself with each new film – but he knows what he does well, and in Sing Street, he delivers it.