By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
In this day and age of cynicism, I often find it refreshing when a much needed breath of cinematic optimism comes along and is handsomely executed. Writer/director John Carney is one of those filmmakers who doesn’t seem completely jaded by the world and is a welcome source of cheerful positivity. His previous films Once and Begin Again incorporate music into stories dealing with real life struggles, and the music becomes a character all its own. This character is usually the source of positive empowerment that helps the protagonist rise above the difficulties in their lives. I know this probably all sounds cliche and sacharine, but Carney brings some genuine heart to his stories and this quality makes his films work so well.
Carney is back with another film titled Sing Street which examines the trials and tribulations of adolescence during the 1980s in Dublin, Ireland, and how music can help troubled teens maintain a more positive outlook on life, despite the problems life can dish out. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo stars as Conor Lalor, a teenager whose family troubles often leave him feeling down and somewhat lost. Because of his parents’ financial woes, Conor has to leave behind his beloved private school to attend the state-supported Synge Street CBS. His parents Robert (Aidan Gillen) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) argue constantly, and life at the new school isn’t much better either. When Conor meets the mysterious, but alluring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton), he gets inspired to form a rock band and asks her to star in his bands’ music videos.
Once again, Carney delivers a highly lovable and truly joyful exercise in musical optimism. While Once and Begin Again deal with using music to cope with adult life, Sing Street introduces the power of music to the growing pains of adolescence. As usual, Carney’s writing and direction really sells his natural sincerity and devotion to his message. The problems in Conor’s life are all problems with which most people can relate. He even incorporates issues that are probably close to his own heart, as he was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. Guessing from his age, which is pretty close to mine, Carney grew up during the 1980s; therefore, I get the impression that this may be his most personal film.
The movie does deal with enough universal problems of teen life, so that people of all ages can relate to Conor and his loved ones. However, because the movie does take place in 1985, adults who grew up during that era will definitely love the trip down memory lane. In addition to the well-written and executed drama, comedy, and romance, the film has a wonderful soundtrack that not only consists of music from the era, but also some totally awesome new songs that perfectly capture the spirit of the era. These songs which are written by Carney and singer/songwriter Gary Clark will have audiences tapping their shoes to the beats, and humming their melodies even after leaving the theater. Their stuff is that good!
The kids in the band not only deliver outstanding acting in the film, but they also sound wonderful in their recordings. Carney chose to cast unknowns as Conor and the band named Sing Street, but he definitely chose wisely. The band members all perform charmingly with natural charisma and great comic timing. The real stand-outs of course are lead guitarist Mark McKenna who portrays Eamon and the star of the film, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, who, I believe, not only has a promising career as a rock singer, but also has a bright future as an actor. The lovely and talented Lucy Boynton delivers a poignant and confident turn as Conor’s love interest Raphina. The film also features exceptional work by Aidan Guillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and Jack Reynor who stars as Conor’s older and wiser brother Brendan.
My only gripe with the film might have to do with the ending. It isn’t a huge complaint, but I feel that it comes across as a bit rushed and somewhat unrealistic. I understand that Carney is attempting to remain true to the wild, reckless rock-n-roll spirit of his characters and film, but I believe that his movie could have maintained that spirit and still remained firmly grounded in reality. Nevertheless, I absolute adore this film. I consider this another major artistic success for John Carney and I know his fans will love this film as much as I do. For those who haven’t seen any of Carney’s previous movies, and are in need of some joy and optimism from their movies, Sing Street is just what the doctor ordered. See it more than once if needed.