Music and cinema are natural bedfellows. From the piano led accompaniment of silent films to the pop soundtracks of Quintin Tarantino. However, very few directors have merged the two as effectively as John Carney. His breakout film Once was the first hint at that talent before Begin Again cemented it. Somehow, though, he has topped both of those with the quite frankly incredible Sing Street.
Set in 1980’s Dublin it is in many ways a simple tale. Boy meets girl, boy starts band to impress girl. It’s a story that could have been set in any school in any decade since recorded music began. It’s also one that has been told before in many different forms. Very few have nailed it as well as this one, though.
Our boy is Conor Lalor (Ferdia Walsh Peelo) who is forced to start attending the local Christian Brothers School – Synge Street the school that Carney himself attended – when his parent’s financial situation worsens. There he quickly finds himself on the outskirts of things, that is until he spots the mysterious Raphina (Lucy Boynton) standing outside the school gate. When she claims to be a model he offers her a role in his band’s music video. When she accepts, he quickly has to put said band together.
Unsurprisingly, he pulls this off, bringing together a ragtag group of kids made up of relative unknowns who easily stand up to their side of the bargain. The highlight, however, is Eamon (Mark McKenna), a musical polymath who has a bizarre obsession with bunnies and quickly becomes Conor’s closest confidants as they set about writing music. Before they get to that, Conor receives a pep talk from his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) who makes sure he knows that rock and roll is a risk. Reynor shines in the role and ends up becoming the heart of the film. An aging stoner, Brendan’s history is slowly fleshed out through proceedings, and his musical educations are incredibly entertaining.
A film like this lives and dies on the music so you can only imagine how delighted Carney must have been when composer Gary Clark handed in his work. The tracks that this fictional band supposedly come up with are genuinely brilliant. Highly influenced by whatever Conor has listened to last you have everything from the ‘Maneater’ fueled ‘Drive It Like You Stole It’ – which has hit written all over it – to the rather punk rock ‘Brown Shoes.’ What they all share is a delightful infectiousness which will have you singing along with them for days after you hear them. It doesn’t matter whether you live and breath the 1980s or couldn’t care less, this is good music.
Which some might point to as a problem. This is a high school band, and they get good very quickly. However, for me that never was an issue. Mark Kermode has spoken in the past about Carney’s ability to represent both the music you hear in the room and the music you hear in your head, and I think that is what he is doing here. There is an element of fairytale to the bands rise and if you let yourself get caught up in that, any complaints about realism just become a bit silly.
Outside of the music the film occasionally slips into formulaic. Conor’s relationship with Raphina is again slightly in the realm of the fairytale. However, there is enough realism here to stop it being light and fluffy. Conor’s parents are currently going through what is essentially a protracted break up while Raphina’s past turns out not to be too pretty itself. This never threatens to overwhelm the joy that this film seeks to give, but it adds a streak of the gritty to it which prevents it become too flimsy to capture your attention.
Sing Street is a film just begging for you to fall in love with it. Its themes of music, love and youthful exuberance might not be anything new, but it is done to such a high quality that you can get past that. I don’t care what you like, if you watch this film and come out with anything but the biggest smile on your face, then you might want to visit a doctor because there is clearly something wrong with you.