Sing Street


In 2007 director John Carney released Once, a wonderful little film about a disenchanted guy who meets a girl on the streets of Dublin and together they find new purpose by forming a band. Then three years ago he made the delightful Begin Again about a disenchanted girl who meets a guy on the streets of New York and together they find new purpose by forming a band. Now we have Sing Street which is about a disenchanted kid who meets a girl on the street outside his new school and together they find new purpose by forming a band. Carney appears to have a bit of a formula. 


It doesn’t matter one jot though because Sing Street is a magnificent movie. It is a sublime hymn to the power of music. It is a magical parable about the power of inspiration. It is a moving and emotionally honest tale of young love. It is a deliciously nostalgic but credible account of life in the British Isles in 1985. If you like British films – see it. If you’ve ever been in a band – see it. If you were young in the 80s – see it. If you ever fell hard for another kid at school – see it. If you loved Duran Duran or The Cure or The Jam (but not Phil Collins) – see it. If you ever found it hard to fit in as a teenager – see it. If you need a break from superheroes – see it. If you love Back to the Future – see it. If you have a heartbeat – see it. See it, see it, see it!


If you’ve seen Carney’s previous films then unsurprisingly some of the beats, both musical and narrative, may feel a little familiar. Sing Street is somehow more ambitious than Once or Begin Again though. It’s not that it has a bigger budget or better known actors; not at all. It’s just that by concentrating on younger characters it feels as though it has bigger themes. These characters have all of their lives to live and as such it seems to be making a statement about opportunity and becoming yourself. 


Everything that happens around the band is pure fantasy but behind this there is a moving and believable story about family and friendships. The film’s protagonist is 15 year old Conor, played by newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, and he is guided in his musical awakening by his older brother Brendan. Their relationship is probably the heart of the movie, even more so than Conor’s developing connection with the enigmatic but vulnerable Raphina, and at the end the movie is actually dedicated to ‘brothers everywhere’. Brendan is played by Jack Reynor who turned up in one of the Transformers films and was rumoured to be a real contender for Young Han Solo. I actually found him excruciating in A Royal Night Out and his appearance alongside Michael Fassbender in Macbeth did little to change my opinion of him. Here though he gives a nuanced performance as a guy for who the example he gives his younger sibling is his greatest achievement. There is something both sweet and tragic in how he is squandering his own potential while living vicariously though his brother. His pride in Conor is touching. 

Yet still the faltering love story is not eclipsed and Raphina’s story feels no less hackneyed. Yes, she is quirky but not in a manic pixie dream girl way. She is just a girl who wants to be a little different to those around her and is believably both confident and insecure. She knows she is attractive but she’s not arrogant; she’s complicated like real people are and it is a good performance from Lucy Boynton (who may be familiar to fans of the Emma Watson TV adaptation of Ballet Shoes).


Conor himself is possibly a little more archetypal. He is certainly precociously talented for a kid who just decided to write songs to get the pretty girl to appear in his pop video but you believe it in the context of the film. It’s also a bit convenient how easily he finds a group of peers who can all play instruments but this kind of quibbling is deeply uncharitable because Sing Street is just a joy. The music is great, the performances strong, the drama well balanced and the end result totally charming. I’m sorry Eddie Edwards but this is the feel good film of the year.

Is this one for the kids?
Sing Street is a bit of a gift for forty somethings as it clearly revisits the time of their youth but I think it is a great film for current teenagers too (it’s rated 12A). There is no swearing and no sexy stuff apart from one scene where a single mother is putting batteries in something that is long and chrome but isn’t a torch. Frankly, if your kids can tell what it is then they already know such things exist. 

The Ripley Factor:
There is a gender imbalance in the casting of Sing Street but it feels authentic for the story it is telling. The female character might be there to motivate a male but not to define him. Raphina is no stereotype, she isn’t objectified and her presence is not tokenistic. 


See it. (Did I say that already?)

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