Once director John Carney returns to his native Dublin for Sing Street, a 1980s-set coming-of-age crowdpleaser with real depth, heart and wit to match its toe-tapping musical beats. Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a 14-year-old kid who’s forced to move from a private school to rowdy public one run by the Christian Brothers when his parents find themselves in financial difficulty. Immediately out of place, Conor is subjected to taunts and attacks by his classmates and teachers. Keen to escape his problems and impress the enigmatic model Raphina (Lucy Boynton) who frequently hangs out across the road, Conor decides to form a band, whose influences range from the Pet Shop Boys to Depeche Mode.
After a few months of writing songs and shooting music videos, the band – christened Sing Street after their school – blossom and Conor starts to look towards his future, drawn closer and closer to Raphina. Inspired by Carney’s own misfit childhood, Sing Street is an old-fashioned romance with an infectious soundtrack and oodles of charm. Conor is a recognisable protagonist; someone eager to escape their circumstances who finds a release in music and runs with it. In Conor’s case, it also puts him in a better position to win over the affections of Raphina. Built around uniformly excellent performances from a cast largely consisting of newcomers, the script is often comfortably familiar, with the plot traversing classic coming-of-age tropes (the breakdown of his parents’ marriage and the introduction of a love rival).
Its predictability is disguised at every step of the way by such heart and wit, though, that it’s easy to forgot how much like other films Sing Street can be at times because it’s such a pleasure to watch. Carney has a naturalistic approach that makes the film appealing to audiences of all ages, whether they remember the 1980s or not. He writes and directs with honesty, with a lot of himself and his influences scattered throughout so as to colour proceedings with a personal touch – one that people can easily relate to. His knack for staging makes the recording scenes brim with life, in particular one midway through that sees Conor fantasise as if he’s performing at an American prom, a la Back to the Future.
It’s the music that’s arguably Sing Street’s crowning achievement. As much as it’s a story of love, it’s also of music and how it provided an escape when not much else did. The changing influences of the time, from Duran Duran to the aforementioned Depeche Mode, are reflected through Conor’s changing image – something that doesn’t always sit well with those around him. Conor’s ambition may be in the realm of fantasy, but it’s ambition nonetheless and it’s infectious to see him throw himself into something that is so rewarding. Carney, who wowed everyone with Once, has a knack for this kind of film. Sing Street promotes his best attributes, and succeeds in delivering toe-tapping, head bobbing thrills, heartfelt, if cheesy romance and big laughs.
Jamie Neish | @EmptyScreens