“Sing Street” (2016) – “The girl. It’s all about the girl, isn’t it?”
Ask most 15 year-old boys that question, and they will probably answer, “Yes!”
In “Sing Street”, for Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) – a 15 year-old Dubliner – the answer to his older brother’s (Jack Reynor) inquiry is also a strong affirmative. You see, Conor falls hard for a pretty, but aloof, brunette named Raphina (Lucy Boynton), and he figures the way to her heart is to form a band and feature her in their music videos.
An average high school boy chasing a beautiful girl is a classic story, and writer/director John Carney’s (“Once” (2007), “Begin Again” (2013)) wonderfully entertaining, music-filled, coming-of-age picture looks back at an inspirational time for modern rock, the 1980s, to tell it. Now, inspiration in 1985 Dublin might seem hard to come by, on the surface. During very trying economic times, the movie mentions that many Irish people were searching for jobs – and better lives – by hopping on ferries and moving to England. For Conor’s parents, Robert (Aiden Gillen) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy), they are not leaving Ireland anytime soon, but they face the strong prospect of leaving one another, and their current financial dilemma is not helping their domestic issues.
Unfortunately, Robert and Penny’s constant fighting affects Conor – and his siblings, Brendan (Reynor) and Ann (Kelly Thornton) – and to make matters doubly-worse, he’s bullied at his new school by a mean-spirited student and the headmaster, Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley).
In a recent interview, Carney mentioned that music became a place of solace when he ran into difficult periods in his life, and Conor looks for the same medium for comfort and, of course, to get The Girl.
The film does a colorful job of painting Conor’s school, Synge Street, as a ragtag, juvenile – and sometimes comedic – asylum of sorts, where adolescent boys attempt to reach for clarity, but their judgment becomes stymied and clouded by mad rushes of testosterone in the crowded and chaotic hallways and courtyards.
Fortunately, Conor finds an ally in Darren (Ben Carolan), a short red-headed kid with braces who carries handmade business cards on small rectangular cardboard pieces. Darren agrees to manage Conor’s new band, even though neither one knows the first thing about playing an instrument or writing songs. With terrific instincts, Carney pulls a hilarious ode to the Irish musical “The Commitments” (1991), as the boys go door-to-door to recruit their brothers-in-music for a hopeful trip to superstardom. Along their journey, the conversations between the kids have a “Sandlot” or “Goonies”-feel, except they enjoy a tighter camaraderie, as they nearly always work together towards a common goal: creating their own music.
Conor’s closest friend is the musically-gifted Eamon (Mark McKenna), and Carney hits the right notes during several scenes when the two teens write songs. The audience does see and hear the fruits of their labor, as Sing Street (their band) ambitiously records their own music videos. Their songs are very catchy and rightfully capture an ‘80s feel, and some classic tunes from the decade – from The Cure, The Clash, Duran Duran, and more – are peppered into the film as well. Magically and organically, Carney piles us into his time machine and sends us on a nostalgic and passionate trip to the sights, sounds and styles of the early music video era.
Sure, 1985 was a unique time, but Carney explores other themes that are timeless, namely the previously mentioned coming-of-age narrative. Brendan plays an important part in Conor’s life, and he could figuratively and literally put his arm around his little brother or emotionally and physically shove him (as brothers sometimes do). You have to see the movie to discover which method of brotherly bonding that Brendan chooses, but let’s just say that certain moments of their together-screen time are key to the movie.
Just like stacks of amplifier equipment and speakers, “Sing Street” carries lots of weight, and its mix of fun pop music with an exploration into the unfair stage of life called the teen years completely satisfies. I can – just about – guarantee that this movie will bring a warm smile to anyone’s face, because “Sing Street” is about The Girl…and so much more.