Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: John Carney
Stars: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Ben Carolan, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Mark McKenna, Don Wycherley, Percy Chamburuka, Ian Kennedy.
There is a strong semi-autobiographical element to this fantastic, charming and slightly quirky Irish coming of age story from writer/director John Carney (Once, Begin Again), who drew upon his own experiences of growing up in Dublin in the mid 80s. Set in Dublin in 1985 the film looks at themes of adolescent angst, the pangs of first love, dysfunctional families, the Catholic education system, bullying, the power of love, and the power of music to inspire and change your life. And while some elements may seem overly familiar through plenty of other coming of age tales, Carney somehow manages to bring a freshness to the material that stamps it as one of the better films in the genre.
The film follows 15-year old Conor (played by newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), who is forced the leave his posh boy’s school in Dublin to attend the local Christian Brothers school when his parents fall on hard times and seem to be on the brink of getting a divorce. There he struggles to fit in. He is bullied on a daily basis, and has to also deal with the harsh and strict headmaster (Don Wycherley) who disapproves of the colour of his shoes.
To escape from his problems, Conor forms a band with the help of his new best friend Darren (Ben Carolan). He also tries to impress local girl Raphina (Lucy Boynton, from Miss Potter, etc), and aspiring model who lives in the group home across the road from the school. Eamonn (played by Mark McKenna), one of the boys in the band, resembles a younger John Lennon and plays a variety of instruments. Darren films their recordings and directs their video performances.
Conor receives advice on both music and girls from his older stoner brother Brendan (Jack Reynor, from Transformers: Age Of Extinction, etc) who has an extensive collection of records on vinyl. Brendan suggests that, rather than doing covers, Conor should write original material for the band. A nice running joke throughout the film has Conor and the band change their image every time they create a new song.
Music has always been a key element in Carney’s films and Sing Street is no different. Music is at the heart of the film and informs the story. This is the second film in a month that has a soundtrack to die for – the other was Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some. In that film though the music was mostly used as background, it was just the music the characters were listening to. Here the music plays an active part in the film.
The superb soundtrack here is shaped by the vibrant British pop sounds of the 80s, particularly the new wave and romantic period, and features the likes of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, The Cure and The Jam. There are also some great original songs written by Carney himself, with the stand outs being The Riddle Of The Model, which channels Duran Duran, and the rocking Drive It Like You Stole It. And there is also a great fantasy sequence in which Conor imagines the band playing at the school’s prom.
Carney draws some strong and wonderfully unaffected performances from the fresh faced youthful cast that add to the authenticity of the material and this world. In particular Walsh-Peelo is a great find; he has plenty of charisma, and his performance captures that sense of youthful optimism, energy and enthusiasm but also the insecurities of adolescents still trying to find their place in the world. And he does his own singing too!
Reynor delivers a solid performance as his older rebellious brother who dropped out of school and feels a mounting sense of frustration at his own failures. Conor’s parents are played by Game Of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy (from the 1991 classic The Commitments, etc), who make the most of their smaller roles. While her presence may remind many of that wonderful film, which also dealt with putting together a band, Carney has denied that he didn’t intend her casting to be a homage.
Sing Street is a wonderful feel good film that celebrates life and youth and young love. The ending itself is also perfect and somewhat sweet and optimistic. Sing Street is Carney’s most accessible and crowd pleasing effort to date. The film is steeped in a sense of nostalgia, and Carney beautifully evokes life in his hometown of Dublin in the mid 80s.
Anyone who loved Alan Parker’s The Commitments or Carney’s Once should put Sing Street at the top of their must see list!