By: Oberst von Berauscht –
It’s the mid 1980s and Teenage Conor is being forced to attend a less expensive inner-city Catholic school on Synge Street due to his parent’s money troubles. He struggles to find acceptance finding friendship only in fellow-bullied kid Darren. One day while school is letting out, Conor spies an older girl named Raphina waiting for her ride to pick her up. Taking a chance, Conor walks up to her and tells her that he’s in a band, hoping to impress her. She seems amused and gives him her phone number, to which Conor presents the news that they are starting a group. The two pair their resources together to find anyone they know who plays instruments. Darren cannot, so he takes the role of manager/producer. The first coup is landing the interest of the super-talented player Eamon, who plays multiple instruments. They find a few other members through Eamon, and begin practicing in earnest.
It is clear that music movies are director John Carney’s thing. Once was a surprise Indie hit, and the hit Broadway musical that followed it up no doubt showed that the simple story of a Man, a Woman, and a book of songs is a concept with legs. So he made the film Begin Again in 2013, which was a good follow-up that also boasted a soundtrack of fine material and a dramatic story. With 2016’s Sing Street, Carney feels reinvigorated, though; lightning in a bottle isn’t easy to capture, and he’s done it now 3 times, this one burning almost as brightly as Once did.
Conor’s mother is having an affair and his dad is coping through a combination of neglect and an increasingly visible alcohol problem. The household is critically broken with two constantly battling parents leaving their three children grasping for a way to deal with the daily traumas.
Conor looks up to his older brother Brendan, whose music collection and knowledge inspires the band’s direction. Brendan looks on with envy as his younger sibling does what he failed to do, and the pain of it is visible even as he cheers Conor on all the way. While telling the core story, the film takes time to explore themes of living in an economic depression, overcoming child abuse, and defining yourself as an individual in a society that is demanding uniformity. The teenage cast is more than up to the challenge here, all of whom provide pitch-perfect performances, in an ensemble which never fails to impress.
No review of a John Carney film would be complete without talking about the soundtrack. Sing Street features songs by A-Ha, Duran Duran, Motorhead, The Jam, Hall & Oates, The Cure, and numerous other landmark acts of the period. But the centerpiece of the film are the original songs penned for the film’s eponymous band to perform. Songs such as “The Riddle of the Model”, “A Beautiful Sea”, and “Drive it like you Stole it” among others perfectly capture the spirit and feel of a band evolving. The earlier songs are more derivative of the bands Conor and company are listening too, but as the film goes on, the songs become more and more original, concluding with “Brown Shoes” which sounds like a band fully in touch with their abilities. License can be given to the filmmakers for allowing the music to change so much so quickly, and it’s fascinating as an experiment for the songwriters who took part in the film. The songs were written by director Carney along with composer Gary Clark and a team of contributors who pull off the small miracle of making every song a unique and compelling experience, without feeling like something a young upstart couldn’t achieve.
Sing Street’s only chief flaw is the lack of development of the rest of the band gets. The plot focuses on Conor and his relationship with Raphina, who sort of becomes the band’s muse. That isn’t to say the story isn’t interesting, but the lives and experiences of the rest of Conor’s band are left without as much to do, other than in musical performances. All of director John Carney’s music films have had a focus on “will they/won’t they” relationships at the core, and that trend continues here. Thankfully, that doesn’t matter much, as the lead characters have such solid chemistry you don’t really notice that you’ve seen this before….
Still, if Carney does decide to follow this basic template for every film he makes and still manages to bring a fresh new twist each time, I’m not going to protest. Hell, the soundtrack alone is worth the price of admission.
Sing Street plows familiar ground and manages to grow something completely genuinely fresh and unusual, with killer music, solid performances, and a palpable statement about the daring of youth.
Sing Street (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for Teens smoking (moral outrage!)
Take a Drink: for name-checking of famous bands/recording artists
Take a Drink: whenever shit gets “real”
Do a Shot: anytime “Sing Street” plays a new song
Do a Shot: for Catholic priests rising to your lowest expectations