[Review written by Stephanie Collier.]
Sing Street is Irish director John Carney’s love letter to Dublin and the music of the 1980’s, completing his triptych of musical movies, following Once and Begin Again. Partly autobiographical, it is an exuberant, sweet and fable-like coming-of-age story that endears itself to the audience from the start.
Carney, who wrote and directed the movie and was also a member of Irish band The Frames, evokes a lost time with tenderness and meticulous attention to detail. From fashion to hairstyles, cassette players and homeware, the movie turns back the clock well – particularly in capturing the ‘80s obsession with music videos and make up.
Sing Street follows in the tradition of fellow Irish music movie The Commitments, in that music is used as the catalyst for the characters to grow and escape from less than ideal social situations. It also illuminates the rough urban world of Dublin in the ‘80s.
The story follows Dublin teenager Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) as he navigates life, set against the backdrop of the turbulence of his parents’ marriage woes and a brutal change of school. Conor becomes enchanted with the beautiful Raphina (Lucy Boynton), an older girl who wants to become a model. In order to impress her, Conor asks her to feature in the video clip his band is making. She says yes, and a date is set. Trouble is, Conor isn’t actually in a band…
What follows is a touching and comic tale, as Conor recruits a motley crew of boys from his school to form a band and impress Raphina. It is a tale of young love and that first kiss, the first tentative steps towards identity and following your dreams. But most of all, it is a tale of love and the discovery of music.
Conor’s older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) proves to be one of the film’s best characters, acting as a musical mentor, life coach and sounding board for Conor, all rolled into one. In Brendan’s den, surrounded by crates of records, the brothers discuss life, girls, lost dreams and music against the background of their parents’ disintegrating marriage. Brendan leads Conor (who becomes ‘Cosmo’ on Raphina’s recommendation) on a journey of musical discovery, which hilariously manifests in instant image changes in the band and heavily influences their song writing.
Sing Street is a simple story, neither complex nor multi-layered, and yet this doesn’t detract from the charm of the movie. The much-touted soundtrack is a treasure trove of ‘80s pop, ranging from Duran Duran to The Cure and much in between. While there are references to edgier music of the era, Sing Street remains firmly ensconced in the pop genre, so those looking for a more nuanced exploration might be a bit disappointed. Also, whether the ending works well or not is open to interpretation.
Not just for ‘80s teens keen to re-experience their adolescence, Sing Street’s universal exploration of the issues of the age also speaks to young people of today. The almost unknown cast (Aidan Gillen of Game of Thrones fame and Maria Doyle Kennedy of The Tudors and The Commitments as Conor’s parents are probably the most well-known) own this story, and the band in focus is overflowing with youthful exuberance and discovery, perfectly capturing the joy of being young and grasping life with both hands.