Sing Street

Posted by Joel Copling on April 23, 2016

Above all else, "Sing Street" is a celebration. It might one with the caveat of the grim and grimy backdrop of a school whose headmaster is the son of a you-know-what and a gaggle of students whom, at one point, our protagonists labels "rapists and bullies" in a disconcertingly casual (if, in the moment, desperate) tone, but the point remains the same. Writer/director John Carney's film is a celebration of multiple things--of youth, of song, of the process of writing and recording music, of innocence lost and found, of first loves. If that all sounds trite, it's because at every turn Carney's screenplay could have been so. At every turn, too, he avoids the trappings of trite soap opera theatrics and keeps the film entirely on the level.

That protagonist is Connor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). He's an unassuming kid in both looks and personality whose parents (Aiden Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) are forced by their current financial woes to transfer Connor from a Jesuit school to the Catholic one that Carney himself, as a youth, attended. This is quite the frightening place, run by Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley) via restrictive rules, a helping of emotional torment, and, on occasion, physical abuse. The other kids, especially a bully named Barry (Ian Kenny), seem to be suffering the unintentional consequences of the school's structure, as they are rowdy, respectful only in a half-hearted manner, and rude in that machismo-driven way of teenagers trying constantly to one-up each other.

In addition to finding a nemesis in Barry, who questions Connor's sexuality from the get-go, Connor makes a friend out of Darren (Ben Carolan), a sympathetic fellow student, and meets a girl--or, perhaps more fittingly, he meets The Girl. Her name is Raphina (Lucy Boynton), and she lives across from the school in a shelter for children whose parents either have died (such as her father, by way of a vehicle) or are in some way unable to raise them (such as her mother, who is hospitalized for manic depression). She's a curious beauty and an aspiring model, dating an older man who is almost surely committing statutory rape by any logical appraisal of the situation and soon to move with that man to London from their current Dublin hometown, as so many people are wont to do in this era (The film is set in 1985).

In a bid to impress this girl, who is a year older, Connor brags about his band and even sings a couple of bars from a popular tune currently making waves on the radio in order to impress her further. Of course, he has no actual band, so he and Darren, who appoints himself the manager, with help from Connor's aimless brother Brendan (Jack Reynor, who is very good here) to find some sort of style that suits them without seeming derivative, form a band whose other members include the multi-talented Eamon (Mark McKenna) on guitar, Ngig (Percy Chambruka) on keyboard, and inseparable friends Larry (Conor Hamilton) and Garry (Karl Rice) on bass and drums. Raphina agrees to be in their first video for a song called "The Riddle of the Model," and you have one guess as to whom that is about.

The video, a low-budget charmer that apes the style of the art form that is currently becoming a trend, is the first stepping stone into a field that quickly becomes of genuine interest to the group beyond posing. Connor has a solid voice that only becomes more melodic as the film plays, and he's quite adept at writing lyrics, too. The original songs, which intertwine with pre-existing music of the era and region, are all memorable, ranging from a song of rebellion against the school's strictures on its students, a fun song at which to tap one's foot to its infectious beat, a slow song of declared love that might be the best-in-show, and others of varying theme and melody that will be stuck in one's head for hours on end. The pre-existing songs, too, are woven in as thematically relevant to the scenes in which they appear, rather than merely complementing a tone.

The film's narrative is light and mostly kept confined to the first half. The second half is, on the face of it, a will-she-or-won't-she romantic melodrama, but the characters are more complex than that might lead one to believe. The performances from the two leads are also exceptional, especially from Boynton, who is the standout here as a young woman with dreams beyond this static existence. Walsh-Peelo is also very good as a young man with a lot to learn and finding himself unprepared for some bitter truths. The final scene presents two characters with an opportunity for something greater. "Sing Street" leaves us on a note of uncertainty that they will find success, but the film smartly reasons that hope is its own form of success. That alone makes this a celebration of such hopeful optimism.

Film Information

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Connor), Lucy Boynton (Raphina), Jack Reynor (Brendan), Mark McKenna (Eamon), Ben Carolan (Darren), Aidan Gillen (Robert), Maria Doyle Kennedy (Penny), Kelly Thornton (Ann), Ian Kenny (Barry), Percy Chamburuka (Ngig), Conor Hamilton (Larry), Karl Rice (Garry), Don Wycherley (Brother Baxter), Lydia McGuinness (Mrs. Dunne).

Directed and written by John Carney.

Rated PG-13 (thematic elements including language/bullying behavior, a suggestive image, drug material, teen smoking).

106 minutes.

Released in select cities on April 15, 2016.