Director: John Carney
Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jack Reynor, Lucy Boynton
Running Time: 1 hour 46 mins
A classic coming of age is a complex genre. Too much drama and the story becomes bitter, an excess of sentiment and you’re left with a sickly sweet narrative that’s hard to swallow. All too often contemporary coming of age flicks fall into the same traps of misjudged humour, awkward dialogue and silly melodrama. However, when done right, a coming of age drama can bring out the very best of our wisdom and innocent creating a glorious emotive mix of our immense vulnerability and our hidden strength. One such hit is John Carney‘s latest triumph, Irish movie SING STREET.
Starring new-comer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, SING STREET tells the charming story of hopeful romantic Conor as he delves into a journey of self discovery through musical bliss, as he forms a misfit band to win the heart of the ever mysterious and completely beautiful Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Set in 1985 sound inner-city Dublin, young Conor is shifted from his cushy private school to the rough around the edges local comprehensive, in order to save some money for his strapped for cash parents.
Money worries aren’t the only problem plaguing the Lalor family though, as increasing tension between Conor’s parents leave him and his siblings continuously blocking out the sounds of barely muffled arguments and a string of excessive insults between Mum and Dad (Maria Doyle Kennedy, Aidan Gillan). With home life pretty miserable, Conor doesn’t get much of an escape at school as he quickly realises he’s the local bully’s new target, sporting a fresh black eye to seal the deal.
This grim adolescence soon perks up though as a vision of beauty and grace appears to Conor like a seductive mirage, in the form of mysterious stunner Raphina, casually hanging out outside the school gates. All eyelashes and confidence, Raphina takes pity on sweet Conor, still sporting his school uniform, and humours his curiosity by informing him she’s a working model who’s planning an imminent move to London to make it big. What’s a spotty school kid have to do to impress such a glamorous vision? Invite her to star in his bands latest music video, of course! What else?
The slight problem of said band being completely fictitious doesn’t stop Conor from sealing the deal an booking Raphina as his star and muse. Turning the new friend and impromptu band manager Darren (Ben Carolan) for help, the two hopefuls set about stringing together a kick-ass band from the handful of non-psychotic pupils that inhabit the otherwise deranged school.
Scouring the school misfits soon pays off though, as Conor finds himself some band mates in the form of Larry (Conor Hamilton), Gary (Karl Rice), Ngig (Percy Chamburuka) and best friend to be, Eamon (Mark McKenna). With just a few rehearsals behind them and a dodgy cover of Duran Duran’s Rio, they soon form their band Sing Street and Conor begins his epic journey to win the heart of his one and only, Raphina.
Starting a band to impress a girl is no new notion. We’ve seen it a thousand times before in the rock and roll fall of fame, and a narrative such as this could have so easily fallen into the trap of being utterly cheesy and outlandishly unbelievable. However, what Carney so cleverly manages to weave is a narrative of effortless charm, glowing nostalgia and the skin crawling memory of teenage desperation and heartache.
Conor’s self discovery through music sees him jump from The Cure to The Clash, Duran Duran to The Jam; his style and personality changing as he throws himself into a new found love and respect for music. Seeing him travel through an adolescent blur of music and romance is enough to make even those of us born post-eighties to feel nostalgic for the time, our memories of expressing ourselves through the marriage of style and music, creating an alter ego of ideology feels both long ago and just like yesterday.
The Sing Street boys all give exceptional performance, each character aiding the overall feeling of charm and affection; a triumph in casting and writing. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays Conor with a blend of great wisdom yet crushing hopelessness that makes him entirely lovable; an underdog with serious edge. Opposite him, Lucy Boynton plays Raphina with a complex naivety that sets her apart from carbon copy character that plague familiar coming of age tales. Instead of the standoffish, cold beauty that eats boys like Conor for breakfast; we’re giving an ever so slightly broken young women who’s search for her true self is just as desperate as all of ours.
What hits us harder then any romantic love story though is the undercurrent theme of brotherhood, in all its heart swelling glory. The relationship between Conor and his older brother catches us completely off-guard, as what starts as a offhand plot point becomes a true representation of family, love and sacrifices between siblings. Playing Brendan, Conor’s pot smoking, music loving older brother, Jack Reynor is an absolute scene stealer throughout the entire film; his magnetic energy and effortless enigmatic nature soaking up all of our attention and emotion.
Reynor is a powerhouse of talent and in one emotive scene we are able to really witness the crumbling of Brandon’s bravado and seemingly lethargic attitude towards life and family. After exploding in a fit of turmoil and years of pent up frustration, Brandon lets both Conor and us in on his tender and heartbreaking musings about his Mother, his relationship with his parents and the sacrifices he has made to enable Conor to live the life he let slip away. It makes for crushing viewing and stands out as one of the film’s most brilliantly deep and honest scenes.
Carney’s only real mistake is the film’s finale, which feels entirely too far fetched for the film’s previous sense of comedic realism. The cynic in us may wince with annoyance at the sickly sweet ending, but this does not distract for the film’s otherwise general brilliance. SING STREET is no doubt Carney’s triumph, outdoing himself and so casting a shadow over his previous work (ONCE, BEGIN AGAIN).
He’s raised the bar for himself with this gem of a film and we’re hopeful he’ll continue to provide musical bliss with knockout writing. With its impressive soundtrack, costume that throws us right in the heart of the eighties, stellar performances throughout and a heart of gold, SING STREET follows all the rules of coming of age dramas to peak our interest, but it’s the core themes of family and self expression that keeps our attention.