Musicals or music related movies never inhabit the middle ground of mediocrity. They either Rock You like a Hurricane or Come Undone at the weight of their own ambition ( see what I did there?)Fortunately for us music and movie lovers, John Carney’s Sing Street falls in the first category as perhaps the finest celebrations of the redemptive powers of music in recent film history. The term “with heart” was invented for movies like Sing Street which has so much heart it pours over like a Bonnie Tyler power ballad and leaves you emotionally ripe to the point of making you want to quit your day job and live out your teenage dreams, for real this time.
It starts where most films concerning youth and music begin, in a veritable wasteland. Unlike overused musical cities the likes of New York, LA or Amsterdam the setting of the story is Dublin, Ireland. Rain soaked and depressing to its urine stained boy’s bathrooms and garbage littered streets this is where we find out hero Conor Lowlar (played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo ) experiencing more than his fair share of growing pains when his parents announce that they are enrolling him in a catholic school to make cuts in the family budget.
What’s remarkable about Sing Street is how unremarkably ordinary its setting and characters are. The family which is comprised of three children and two utterly dysfunctional parents could be any familial unit in Ireland although they live simply and dream even simpler, that is except for Conor and his brother Brendan ( Jack Reynor).
They,, however, don’t have hoop dreams or ambitions of reality TV stardom because this is the 80’s folks. Did I not mention this film is set in the 80’s? The decade before the decade when music officially died. Yes, Sing Street takes place in those glorious years when Duran Duran, and Michael Jackson were topping the charts along with Spandau Ballet, Hall and Oats, The Cure ( not exactly the 80’s but early 90’s but whatever)A-Ha and other iconic 80’s musical icons whose music and influence is openly and unabashedly showcased throughout the film. Paying homage to the age of the music video, the film creates nostalgia for the period when rock bands wore make-up and had such an authentic sense of style and musical identity that they were instantaneously recognizable.
I really don’t want to give the plot or the premise of this movie away because its beauty is so much more illuminating when discovered without preconceived notions. Let’s just say it is a coming of age tale of a boy who tried to win a girl over by forming a pop band and chaos ensues. This film is so much more but it would be unjust to reveal some of the most inspiring twists in the film because I want you to walk into this film blind and be blown away by the sincerity of it all.
The emotional core of the film is difficult to ignore as it is in every frame but especially poignant during exchanges between Conor or Cosmo as he is later known, and his brother who rightfully claims to have “paved the path” Conor is walking on throughout the film. Raphina ( Lucy Boynton), Conor’s love interest is an equally intriguing flesh and blood character that encompasses all that was naively misguided and hopeful about the 80’s. The charismatic and adequately quirky band members of Sing Street add their own brand of zaniness to the film from the entrepreneur cum manager Darren and Eamon (Mark McKenna) the rabbit boy to classroom bully turned roadie, Barry.
Genuinely funny, some of the strangest and most hilarious portions of the film include Brendan’s unfair disciplining of his sister Anne in spite of his own bonged-out hippie status in the family while Conor also feels so terribly close to who we all were once upon a time ago that you can’t help but root for him to overcome the very real and very ordinary difficulties he faces with his parent’s marriage, school dynamics and romance with Raphina.
Sing Street is also chock full of so many original hits that you wish you could hear the next Sing Street single on the radio or on iTunes. From the snappy and catchy “Up” and the sad-happy ” Beautiful Sea” to the Duran Duran tribute ” Riddle of the Model” to the anthematic ” Drive it Like You Stole it” and stick it to your local catholic priest track ” Brown Shoes” the soundtrack of the film is musical perfection, right down to the instrumental rendering of A-Ha’s “Take on Me”.( which is curiously not credited in the OST track list)
A stark contrast to the formulaic and soul-less musical films the likes of High School Musical and other cinematic odes to the magic of music of the Anna Kendrick variety, Sing Street feels like an indie film which encompasses the timeless and epic qualities of Grease or Moulin Rouge but refuses to indulge in clichés and overwrought emotions. It should come as no surprise that it is the work of John Carney who brought us the Academy Award-winning Once. But unlike Once and its follow-up Begin Again, Sing Street strikes the perfect balance between stark, unforgiving reality and the wistful hopefulness of a cinematic musical showpiece to give viewers a decidedly down-to-earth rendering of music’s power over our lives and dreams.
If nothing else Sing Street is an entertaining powerhouse complete with all the charm and mythology of an Irish folktale and with plenty of wisdom to impart. Perhaps none quite so relevant as the fact that ” No woman can truly love a man who listens to Phil Collins”. For brothers and music lovers everywhere…Play On!