Star Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Anyone familiar with the name John Carney is probably familiar with his indie musical, Once. Since the release of Once in 2007, Carney has made a name for himself making dramas about people with a strong love of music, with his recent film being Sing Street.
Sing Street stars Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as Conor, a 15 year old living in Dublin in 1985 during an economic depression. This economic depression has Conor’s family pulling him out of school and putting him in the more affordable Christian Brotherhood school, Synge Street. After his first day of school, Conor sees the mysterious Raphia (played by Lucy Boynton) across the street from the school and in an attempt to impress her tells her that he has a band and needs her for a music video they are filming. This forces Conor to gather up kids to form a band so Conor can win Raphina’s heart.
One of the great talents that Carney has shown with both Once and Sing Street, is his ability to use unknown or non-actors. Once featured Glen Hansard and Market Irglová, two musical artists who had not previously acted before. Sing Street, while it does feature some big name actors like Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy, it also features a majority of unknowns who have little to no prior acting history. This is Ferdia Walsh-Peelo’s first film and he manages to express the full range of emotions of a kid dealing with growing up while trying to focus on his dreams. The film primarily focuses on Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, and Jack Reynor (who plays Conor’s older brother, Brendan) as the emotional core of the film, and Carney leaves very little room for some of the other band members and kids to flex their acting chops. This is both a good and bad thing, its good because it doesn’t muddle up the story with too many characters to focus on, but bad because there are a lot of excellent performances from the rest of the kids who are left to be two-dimensional background characters.
There are a lot of similarities between Sing Street and Once which makes it somewhat difficult to review without drawing attention to the two of them. Both films are essentially about a man trying to use music to impress and woman, and need to form a band to do so. The biggest difference between the two is the amount of humor Sing Street adds to the story. String Street can easily be considered a coming of age tale. Conor is a kid who at first struggles to find his place in the world amidst the impending separation of his parents over money, the head of the school disapproving of the Conor’s lifestyle, and dealing with the school bully. With his brother’s guidance he is able to make sense of it all and find the happy/sad that balances life out.
If a movie this good needed some kind of flaw, it would probably be the relationship between Conor and Raphina. Its there, and its good, but it might be possible to confuse Raphina’s cold, “everything’s great” facade as poor acting, but that is the point of her character. Everything she does is an act because she’s afraid of being close to anyone and having to give up her dreams by joining reality. Conor and Raphina have several moments alone in which they learn small things about each other, but it never feels like they form a deeply connected relationship. The relationship between Conor and his brother is significantly stronger than Conor’s relationship with Raphina, which is why the emotional climax comes at the end when his brother helps Conor pursue his dreams, not when Conor and Raphina decide to tackle life together. Even though Carney cast known actors as Conor’s parents, they are relatively absent in the rest of the film, which emphasizes the strong relationship Conor has with his brother since his brother appears to be the one giving him the life advice that is typically reserved for a parental figure.
Sing Street is a fun call back to the 1980’s that invokes a nostalgic feeling for John Hughes, Duran Duran, The Cure, A-ha, and many other popular 80’s bands. It features a strong unknown cast that will be one to keep an eye on in the years to come, and some amazing music. If you prefer your movies on Netflix, go ahead and stream this one before its too late.