“Rock and roll is a risk.”
Teenage life is hard to capture, especially through a grownup lense, but John Carney posesses a magical knack for it. It’s as though he bottled up his youth 30 years ago and opened it up just now for script writing reference. Or maybe he’s just young at heart. But with Sing Street, he puts his heart on the screen and manages to create a delighful and extrodinarily honest coming of age muscial without any cliches or hints of triteness.
It’s Ireland, 1985. 15-year-old Conor has just transferred to a new school where malicious kids, strict teachers and his separating parents’ financial problems cast a dark shadow over his world. Enter Raphia; a shining light and the object of his immediate and ceaseless infatuation. But with her already out of school, a working model with an older beau and he a baby-faced schoolboy struggling to fit in, their odds seem slim. The solution? Form a band because what girl won’t fall for a musician? But he jumps the gun just a bit and asks her to star in a music video for his as of yet non-existent band. When she agrees, Conor races to form a band and write a decent song to put truth to his ploy. He gathers up five misfit musicians into a garage band and thus, Sing Street is born and something truly wonderful is formed from a mad plan to dazzle a crush.
Sing Street will no doubt launch several of its young leads’ careers as the film showcases their immense performance talent, made even greater by the fact that for many of them it is their big screen debuts. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo forms an awkward yet quietly confident character in Conor who is a striking model of courage despite his bleak situation. His confidence continues to amplify as he comes into his own and learns to navigate the rough waters of individuality in a colorless community closed off to creativity. The bullying he faces only fuels his desire to rise above until he eventually becomes completely indifferent to naysayers. Opposite Conor is Raphina (Lucy Boynton) who, forced to grow up much too fast, is wise beyond her years and clearly troubled under her cool facade. Though close in age, they’re opposite in the sense that while Conor radiates youthful innocence and hope, Raphina is an older, darker soul. But as the story continues it becomes obvious that they make a perfect pair as they have both overcome great adversity in their young lives.
The band itself is not just a prop for plot’s sake; they’re actually quite good and their Duran Duran influenced, new wave-esque, punk rock songs give Sing Street a distinct voice that drives the film home. Among the standout hits is “The Riddle of the Model”, the ballad “Up”, the catchy dance tune “Drive It Like You Stole It” and “Brown Shoes”, a passion-driven triumphant stab at “every Christian brother and bully you ever knew”.
Sing Street, with its peculiar charm, is one of the best indie releases of the past year. John Carney, alumnus of the musical romance genre with 2006’s Once and 2014’s Begin Again, does a masterful job as both writer and director. He leaves his mark with a heartwarmingly pure story that embodies the innocence of young love and pure passion for following a dream. His clever and relatable script about young love and aspiring to get more out of life, weaved into a musical storyline, emits a rousing feeling of inspiration. It emphasizes the importance of standing out through taking risks, yet always staying true to yourself. It’s about striving to fit in but at the same time makes a case that maybe fitting in perfectly with the mundane masses isn’t always the way to get ahead in life.
At times, Carney’s touch creates an almost magical feel and Sing Street seems to border on fantasy, but its focus on Ireland’s dark economic times in the 1980s grounds it, providing balance in an enchanting love story. By loosely pulling events from his own childhood in Dublin, Carney is able to craft a beautifully authentic film that, so genuinely real and full of heart, has the ability to resonate with audiences of all walks of life. It’s a unique and absolutely stunning picture of youth that touches on coming of age and all its struggles.
The fairytale ending of Sing Street, that sees Conner and Raphina sailing off to England in a piece of scrap that might as well be a toy boat, after which the film ends abruptly, is romantic but just a bit too unrealistic. The end lacks a satisfying conclusion and leaves the future of the band and the young lovers uncertain. The unknowns are frustrating but also exceptionally fitting because the characters are young and they still don’t know where their lives will take them which seems to be what Sing Street preaches; the endless possibilities that come with growing up.