Hearing that John Carney had a new film coming out, I was firstly excited, then a little apprehensive. I had adored Once, a sensitive and smart musical for our generation with the right amount of energy and heart to make you fall in love with both the music and the story. Indeed, it had enough heart to transfer to the stage and I enjoyed the physical translation of Carney's screenplay enormously. But then I saw Begin Again, and while pleasant enough, it was also a little too saccharine for me, even in some standout scenes admist the hustle of New York City I had found Mark Ruffalo a little try hard in it (a feat in itself.) But John Carney is dedicated to bringing his vision of a contemporary musical to life, and he has hit it on the third attempt.
Sing Street is so marvellously joyous, you'll find it hard to not get up and dance in your seat. A sublime partnering of original score and nostalgic eighties tunes, this is a magical musical not to be missed.
Moving away from the modern day setting of his previous work, Carney turns sentimental in his nostalgia, setting the action in a bleak 1985 Dublin where times were hard on families needing work and the younger generation had their sights set on London. Our protagonist Conor (a wide-eyed newcomer on the indie film scene, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a sensitive outsider type kid, a victim of an unhappy and tense home life which sees the family needing to cut expenses by pulling Conor out of his posh Jesuit school and putting him in the state-run Christian Brothers school on Synge Street.
His only comfort comes from religiously watching Top of the Pops with his music buff brother Brendan (an unmissable Jack Reynor.)
Within his first week of ducking the school bullies, getting penalised for wearing the wrong shoes, and learning that to survive here he really needs to keep his head down, Conor spots the girl of his dreams, Raphina (Lucy Boynton), sitting on the steps of her house opposite the school. An aspiring model, he thinks fast on his feet and asks her to be in his new music video. Now he actually has to start a rock band and write some music.
Cue the most entertaining of scenes in which Conor appeals to his new classmates to be part of this enterprise to get the girl, insisting that he is passionate about creating a new sound. Enlisting the help of a motley crew of amateur musicians, the star of which is painfully shy multi-instrumentalist Eamon who brings his songwriting skills to go with Conor's lyrics; they also find the one black guy in school (Percy Chamburuka), who they are sure must play an instrument (he does, he plays keyboard); and the bass and drum players sign up after seeing a bulletin-board flyer. Sing Street has now formed.
The 80s kid inside of me was constantly entertained as the band tweaked their dramatic stylings to find the sound that would define them, and as in Once and Begin Again, the songs rose to be more than a narrative device to play out this puppy-love, they were events in themselves. Often hilarious (their first song 'The Riddle of the Model' had the audience twittering delightedly) and hearkening back to hit 80s tunes, the music is delivered with a stroke of genius.
We are also treated to some heavy duty costume changes throughout the film which thrilled even the most ensemble-y challenged. Each time the musical direction of the band develops, so to does Conor's tailoring of his look, each time with a new-found confidence lifted straight from Top of the Pops. With the intensity that comes with falling in love and finding your true vocation, so does your ambition to be yourself, and Carney plays with this notion as Conor cuts an increasingly strong figure as he strolls across the school playground, worlds away from the brittle boy from the broken home. And that's very much the point of it. As he moves, chameleon-like through his school yard, others are either astonished or frightened; such is the effect of individuality at a young age.
A must-see for fans of musical films, Sing Street is a pure treasure. Without really diving deep into the kitchen-sink drama of Conor's life, we are instead treated to the story of a boy in love with a girl not quite within reach, a tinge of melancholy to the romance of the piece. Not to be taken seriously, as a relationship is at that age I guess, the film chooses to stay naive and shallow; it's allowed because the music is so darn decent. Each song rose to the occasion and people in the audience watching it with me gradually started to tap their feet along to the catchy tunes. Indeed, as the credits rolled, we all stood up, grinning at each other. We had just experienced a 'movie moment.' A feel-good story, the film was well executed with a nostalgic quality that still made us feel very present.