Sing Street is a real charmer from John Carney, the writer-director of Once and Begin Again. Like those films, this isn’t a musical in the conventional sense of the word but it uses original songs (cowritten by the filmmaker) to move the story forward and reflect the feelings of its main character. It’s a perfect integration of music and storytelling, set in Dublin in 1985.
Newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays Conor, a 15-year-old lad whose bickering parents’ money woes result in him having to transfer to a public school filled with tough, unfriendly kids and run by a mean-spirited priest. His refuge is music. In this he is encouraged by his older brother, a college dropout, who advises his sibling on the best bands, past and present…and celebrates the emergence of music videos on the telly featuring Duran Duran and The Cure.
Then Conor lays eyes on Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a striking teenage beauty with a plan to move to London and become a model. In the meantime, she serves as Conor’s muse and agrees to appear in a home-made video he shoots with a handful of schoolmates.
Carney draws on his vivid memories of growing up in the 1980s, when Ireland seemed to offer nothing but a dead end to kids of his generation… but the period also allows him to tell his story without the distraction of cell phones and texting. What a blessing. Conor’s diminutive manager doesn’t even have a family telephone and tells interested parties who read his flyers to come by his address in person!
The beauty of Sing Street, which Carney crafted from a story he wrote with Simon Carmody, is that it feels authentic while embracing classic movie-style wish fulfillment. There is even a fantasy sequence that only a Scrooge could reject. If this isn’t exactly the way it was, it’s the way it should have been.
Both Conor and Raphina are finding their way. He says that when he looks in the mirror he’s still trying to figure out who he is. She is poised and beautiful enough to be a model and knows it, but doesn’t have anyone to back up her dreams, which require getting away from Dublin and moving to London.
Sing Street is a feel-good movie that offers more than empty-headed escapism. I found it irresistible.