SING STREET (9 out of 10) Written and Directed by John Carney; Starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jack Reynor, Lucy Boynton, Kelly Thornton, Ben Carolan, Mark McKenna, Percy Chamburuka, Conor Hamilton, Karl Rice, Ian Kenny; Rated PG-13 for “thematic elements including strong language and some bullying behavior, a suggestive image, drug material and teen smoking”; Running time 106 min; In limited release April 15, 2016, expanding nationwide April 29 and May 6.
For everyone who remembers first loves, the oppressive nature of school, and trying to find your way through music, you have “Sing Street.” It’s funny, charming and delightful, with a soundtrack and feel that immediately put you in the time and place of Ireland in the mid-1980’s and the highs and lows of young love. Director John Carney follows up his previous films “Once” and “Begin Again” with a story inspired by his own experience growing up in Dublin and playing in bands with another home run of a film.
Our story follows Conor, who is forced to transfer schools when his struggling family can no longer afford the tuition at his current school. At the Synge Street Academy, he is an immediate target of bullies and an abusive headmaster, but finds a few friends and a fascination with a girl who always stands on her doorstep across from the school. When approaching her, he lies and says he is in a band and they need a girl to be in a music video.
So, he forms a band with friends from school which they name Sing Street. The relationship, and the music, develop and grow from there.
As great as the main romantic relationship is, what makes this film are Conor’s relationships with others. Especially key is his relationship with his older brother, who mentors Conor in his music. So many of us can identify with this– an older sibling, an aunt or uncle, or someone else who clued us in as ignorant uncultured youths to the truly dangerous and awesome music we were missing. There’s a reason this film is dedicated “For brothers everywhere.”
The other key relationships are with the members of Conor’s band. As new music is introduced to him– everything from Joe Jackson to The Cure to Hall & Oates, Conor goes to his best friend Eamon, always willing to write a song… when he’s not distracted by his pet rabbits. It’s great to hear the band’s original songs back to back with their spiritual sisters (you can also get a taste of this by listening to the soundtrack, which I downloaded immediately to my phone after leaving the theater and has been playing on repeat nonstop since then.) It’s also hilarious to watch Conor trying to find himself as he changes his look depending on what he’s been listening to. Especially great is when he starts trying to emulate Robert Smith from The Cure.
While some may want to compare this to “The Commitments”, another tale of a band struggling to make it in Ireland (they even share a cast member), John Carney has explicitly said this was not the case. Indeed, if you’re looking for another film to compare this to, it’s sort of like if “The Breakfast Club” had a child with “That Thing You Do!” Similar especially to the Tom Hanks movie about a band’s elevation to stardom, it focuses on period nostalgia, great characters and great music. And, of course, it’s covered in the fingerprints of John Carney and songwriter Gary Clark, who collaborated on the original songs on the soundtrack.
The only complaints with this film is that it takes a little while to take off. Of course it’s slow while you have to put the band together. But then it gets amazing. A song on the soundtrack encourages you to “Drive it Like You Stole It”– a great metaphor for both life and what this film does as it punches into a higher gear for it’s middle hour.
Unfortunately, then, it has a somewhat disjointed ending which will leave many unsatisfied. Indeed, Carney himself called it a “mistake” and wishes he could redo it. Perhaps the strangest choice is that in the final scene they choose to play a song by Adam Levine of Maroon 5 rather than keep with period songs or a song by the Sing Street band. While Levine did a great job in “Begin Again” and contributed amazingly to that soundtrack, he’s so out of place here.
Despite a strained ending and a somewhat slow beginning, the rest of the film is so incredibly satisfying that you will hardly remember its flaws. You’ll likely also immediately want to listen to the soundtrack nonstop. This is a great film, and perhaps its only criticism is it’s not quite as good as Carney’s other films, but it’s immensely superior to 99% of other, similar films out there.
9 out of 10