Title: Sing Street
Director: John Carney
Major Players: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Jack Reynor, Lucy Boynton
Out Of Five: Four
Director John Carney is back on his home turf. Not that he’s ever shied away from making films where music plays an integral part. And he’s doing that again in Sing Street, but this time he’s also back in his home town of Dublin. The Synge Street of the title.
It’s also the name of the school that Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) has to go to when his parents can no longer afford the fees at his private school. This is mid-80s Dublin, knee deep in recession, and his parents’ marriage is noisily crumbling before his eyes and ears. His sister’s in college and his older brother Brendan has dropped out of college to concentrate on growing his hair and smoking weed. Conor’s new school is rough, he’s an outcast and he needs an escape. Then he becomes fascinated with the would-be model, Raphina (Lucy Boynton), pretends he’s in a band to impress her and has to form one when she calls his bluff.
It’s a very romantic film, sweet even and, given that the main characters are all teenagers, also surprisingly innocent. But Carney’s stock in trade is showing how music can lift lives out of the ordinary and turn them into something special. Idealistic, yes, but only up to a point, because he balances the possibility that somebody with only a modicum of talent can amount to something big, with some harsh reality.
Like Conor’s constantly feuding parents – the shouting and screaming from the other side of closed doors, the dad sleeping on the floor while mum, full of bitterness and resentment, sleeps in the bed. He can’t get a job, she’s down to three days a week so the lack of money is the final straw. Towards the end, we watch what looks like an idyllic scene: the young couple are leaving Ireland for Wales, just 30 miles across the water, and they’re in a little power boat in brilliant sunshine. A few miles out, they hit a storm, all choppy waters and lashing rain. They’re soaked and nearly run into the ferry. It’s not so romantic now.
The soundtrack is terrific, not just the actual music from the 80s, but also the band’s own songs, all composed by Carney and sung by Walsh-Peelo. It’s almost impossible not to strum your fingers or tap your foot to all of them. Nor can you resist being amused by the way Conor changes his style during the film to match the different musical phases of the band. Initially, he’s a terrible singer, but gets better with each song and stays the lead singer. The other main man in the band in Eamon (Mark McKenna) who plays no end of instruments – guitar, keyboard, drums, just about anything – and, outside of music, is obsessed with his rabbits. Even when they do what they shouldn’t on his bed.
There’s an echo of teenage Commitments about this, although The Commitments were a better band and had a clearer idea of what type of music they wanted to play. Conor describes his band as futurists, whatever that means. But this doesn’t have the edginess of Alan Parker’s movie, nor does it have a lead singer with such an outstanding voice. And it doesn’t need either, because this is designed to be a coming of age story and a crowd pleasing one at that. And it most certainly succeeds. You’ll leave the cinema with a smile on your face, a song in your heart and a spring in your step.
Sing Street is released in cinemas on Friday, 20 May and will be reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 19 May.