The Irish musical comedy drama romance (that’s a lot of genres to take in, I know) Sing Street was one of the great and most sadly overlooked films of the previous year. Fortunately, it’s on Netflix now and I seriously recommend that you watch it. I watched it last night and I absolutely loved it.
Well, actually, it took me a while to realize that I loved it. When the movie first started, I was kinda like, “Well, that’s cute and sweet but it’s not exactly blowing me away…” It tells the story of a 15 year-old boy named Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who is growing up in Dublin in the early 80s. His father (Aidan Gillen) and his mother (Maria Doyle Kennedy) are constantly fighting and Conor suspects that they’re on the verge of separating. His older brother, the charismatic but bitter Brendan (Jack Reynor), has dropped out of college and moved back home. Brendan spends his days stoned and talking about music.
Because the family is short on money, Conor has been transferred to a free school, Synge Street. It’s a far rougher school than what Conor is used to. Bullies target him as soon as he arrives. Meanwhile, the principal, Brother Baxter (Don Wycherly), has taken a somewhat disturbing interest in his newest student. When Conor can’t afford to buy the black shoes that he’s required to wear to school, Baxter forces him to spend the school day in his socks.
Perhaps the only positive in Conor’s life is Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a 16 year-old who lives across the street from the school. Raphina is an aspiring model with an older boyfriend and plans to move to London. Conor tells Raphina that he’s in a band and that he wants her to star in a music video. To Conor’s surprise, Raphina agrees.
Now, Conor just has to get a band together…
Sing Street was directed by John Carney, the same man who previously gave us the wonderful Once and the somewhat-less-wonderful-but-still-good Begin Again. Much like those previous two films, Sing Street is a deliriously romantic and rather bittersweet little film, one in which love and emotion are expressed through song. As a director, Carney has a real skill for capturing the excitement of creation. The scenes in which Conor and his friend Eamon (Mark McKenna) work on their songs are just as enthralling as the scenes of Raphina and Conor falling in love.
And the music itself is wonderful. While the soundtrack never quite reaches the heights of Once, it is a definite improvement over Begin Again. The songs are all catchy and enjoyable but, even more importantly, they sound like the songs that actually would have been written by a talented but confused 15 year-old who has just started his own band. There’s an aching sincerity to Sing Street‘s songs and they stay with you. They remind you of how wonderful it is to know that you have your entire future ahead of you.
As I said, I didn’t realize how good Sing Street was until I had nearly reached the end of the movie. Sing Street is one of those low-key films that kind of sneaks up on you. At first, you think that you’re just watching another well-made coming of age film and then suddenly, you’re in tears. You’re hoping that Raphina will make it to London and that Conor will find some sort of happiness. The film ends on a somewhat ambiguous note but, in the end, you realize you really don’t need to know the exact details of what happened to Raphina and Conor in the future. Instead, what’s important is that they had this wonderful experience when they were young. Regardless of what happens to them in the future, you’re happy that they had the experience.
The whole film is undeniably well-acted but I want to make special mention of Jack Reynor, who brings a wounded dignity and rueful humor to the role of Brendan. He dominates his few scenes and you find yourself happy that, regardless of how messed up the rest of his family may be, Conor has a brother like Brendan.
As I said at the start of this review, Sing Street is on Netflix. And you should definitely watch it.