With Once (2006), Begin Again (2013), and now Sing Street (2016), Irish filmmaker John Carney has crafted an impressive trio of modern musicals. His latest takes place in Dublin back in the 1980s, and it’s his most fun, most fantastical, most nostalgia-tinged film to date. When a schoolboy confidently approaches an older girl with whom he’s attracted, and she tells him that she’s a model, he responds by telling her that he’s in a band (he isn’t) and he invites her to be in his music video. You know what that means… assemble the band!
What follows is your typical making-the-band/coming-of-age story, made with a lot of heart. Sing Street is named after the fictional band in the movie (a play on the name of their school, Synge Street) and it has plenty of charm. The soundtrack is full of 80s classics and original Sing Street tunes (written by Carney and Gary Clark). It features old cuts from Duran Duran, The Cure, Motörhead, Hall & Oates, The Jam, and Joe Jackson. As the band comes together and starts making music, they go through several phases and styles, experimenting with different sounds and looks of the time. One doesn’t have to be familiar with the 80s to enjoy it, but folks who lived through those times and look back on them fondly may have a greater appreciation for the movie.
The kids in Sing Street are predominately nonprofessional child actors, and for the most part they do a fine job. Some of the band members are merely set dressing and the focus is on Conor aka Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), our fearless leader. People in his orbit include Raphina (Lucy Boynton), the object of his affection, Brendan (Jack Reynor), his supportive older brother, Eamon (Mark McKenna), his talented bandmate, Barry (Ian Kenny) an annoying bully, and Brendan and Penny (Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) his bickering parents. Walsh-Peelo holds his own in his big screen debut and he pairs well with Lucy Boynton, but the star of the show is the music. I found “The Riddle of the Model” to be particularly catchy.
In Carney’s films, music is medicine or magic; an escape, a solution to life’s ills. Feeling down? Pick up a guitar, start a band, write a tune. Music is the answer to all of Cosmo’s adolescent problems. Things come together a little too easily for the young lads in Sing Street, but I suppose that’s part of the fantasy. Carney’s musicals have gotten progressively less realistic (and more fun, humorous, and romantic) with each outing. Once is firmly rooted in reality and made on a super-thin budget — it almost looks like a documentary or high-quality home video. It’s the most tender and poignant of the three (and still my favorite). Begin Again took a step away from that with higher production values, more charm, and a sheen of artifice. Sing Street goes even further in the same direction (on the reality scale) and parts of it almost feel like a fairy tale. All three use music effectively and are heavy on mood and feeling, utilizing musical montages to help tell their stories. Sing Street plucks on the strings of nostalgia and it’s a nice complement to the unrelated but intrinsically linked Carney musicals that came before it.
3.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Sing Street is now playing in Houston at Sundance Cinemas and Cinemark Tinseltown 17.
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