Fancy a fun, family-friendly flick about “teens crushing on each other with big hair and too much eyeliner, playing music in the 1980s in Dublin” (according to the wife), written and directed by the guy who made Once and Begin Again? If so, you’ll likely fancy Sing Street, John Carney’s latest musical number, a throwback to The Commitments, Alan (Fame) Parker’s infectious 1991 hit about a motley crew of working-class R&B performers struggling to become Dublin’s next big thing in pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland. This time around the performers are pint-sized and the music is new wave.
Cute as all get out, Sing Street features younger and less well-known faces than Begin Again‘s Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo (an East Village singer-songwriter’s raw talent captivates a disgraced—and tousled—record producer!), or even Once‘s Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (an Irish busker and a Czech immigrant pair up… and win an Oscar!), but is no less appealing as a result. In fact, it’s a calculated crowd pleaser; the crowd with whom I saw it was pleased enough to offer a round of applause when the house lights came up.
Carney’s coming of age tale is told through the widening eyes of 15-year-old Conor, engagingly played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo. Early in the film, Conor finds himself downgraded to a rough Christian Brothers school to help his embattled parents make ends meet. In order to impress the older girl who loiters across the street from his new school, Conor is forced to pull a band together at short notice. Since it’s the ’80s, the music video is all the rage, and Conor’s courtship of aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton) involves self-penned love songs on cassette tape and VHS shoots involving the aforementioned big hair and eyeliner, not to mention garishly ill-advised costumes. Conor’s older-and-wiser stoner brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) provides the group’s grounding, vinyl-wise.
It’s not all silly and syrupy though. There are Conor’s warring parents, constantly yelling at each other behind closed doors, your typical criminally over-attentive headmaster and, all in all, just another prick in the hall (a burly bully in bovver boots). Despite these believable downers, the tone is mostly charming and Carney—former bassist of Dublin’s The Frames so he knows a thing or two about basic chord progressions—rounds out the soundtrack of period pop synth hits (Duran Duran’s “Rio,” The Cure’s “In Between Days,” M’s “Pop Muzik,” etc.) with some authentic-sounding songs of his own, convincing as the outpourings of Conor and his titular band—pop wonders like “The Riddle of the Model” and “Drive It Like You Stole It.”
My only complaint is one of production. Crank those ’80s gems higher in the mix!
Sing Street is, by turns, joyous and uplifting, awkward and formulaic, kind of like life I suppose (especially if you’re a 15-year-old Irish lad with not very big problems). Think about it though: chips, snoggin’, and A Flock of Seagulls. What more could one possibly need?
(c) 2016 David N. Butterworth