D/W: John Carney. D: Yaron Orbach. Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo/Lucy Boyton/Jack Reynor/Maria Doyle Kennedy/Aidan Gillen/Mark McKenna/Conor Hamilton/Karl Rice/Ian Kenny/Percy Chamburuka/Ben Carolan/Don Wycherley/Kelly Thornton.
A Sundance Film Festival hit, John Carney’s new film Sing Street is here at last courtesy of the heavy hitters of the Weinstein Company. Carney writes and directs again and this time he might be at his best.
The 2007 film Once stole film goers hearts and took the Oscar for best original song. Carney’s Irish busker/hoover-fixer-sucker guy played by Glen Hansard wrote most of the songs and continue to make music with Marketa Irglova. This was followed by 2013’s Begin Again, which sported more star wattage with Keira Knightley as the songwriter girlfriend of a singer (Adam Levine) whose gotten his break. Her reluctant friendship with messy music producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) leads her to make her own album all recorded in the outdoors of New York City. Sense a pattern yet?
With Sing Street Carney returns to his native Ireland in 1985 in certain tough economic times when young people were emigrating to London for a new start. As the poster claims the basic log-line is boy meets girl, girl is unimpressed, boy makes band. Our boy is new face Ferdia Walsh-Peelo whose parents are forced to switch him to a cheaper school to cut costs. Terrorized at this Christian Brothers academy he notices Raphina (Lucy Boynton) who hangs out across the street. He gets her digits when he asks her to appear in his music video for his band. Now he is tasked with building a band with his school mates and learning from his wiser stoner brother (Jack Reynor) how to write songs and win the girl.
Sing Street succeeds in contextualizing the band in a fun and varied music time period. The 1980s and the dawn of the music video are necessary influences on the look of the film. The homemade footage cut in not only encourages nostalgia and laughter, but is a strategic precursor to the more polished videos later. At first imitation grips the boys, but Walsh-Peelo’s Connor slowly brings his songwriting forward. Carney balances the band’s genesis with Connor’s school hazing and parents’ imminent to divorce. Their fighting is heard through walls so we only see the brilliant Maria Doyle Kennedy a few times as Connor’s mother, but the couple remain uninterested in their kids lives.
Like his previous films, Carney is clever to hide his musical numbers in realism for modern audiences. Unlike musical adaptations like Into the Woods, Sing Street works more like a musical biopic. Connor’s songwriting sessions and band rehearsals blend to create numbers that appear to move the plot along, when in fact they merely allow you to enjoy the music. The specific use of a dream sequence to illustrate Connor’s ideas for a music video is a clever excuse to play an entire song under a disguise. This song ‘Drive It Like You Stole It’ is the clear tent pole original song and is a clever catchy riff on one of Reynor’s lines. In modern musicals the stage continues to be a site for character expression that could not be said otherwise. Music allows Connor to share his feelings for Raphina, even in cassette tape form, and this works.
Sing Street is ultimate fun and it will be hard for anyone not to laugh or jam along. Carney hand picked his group of young band mates with rosy-cheeked Walsh-Peelo looking every bit the man-child he is. His awe struck looks at Boynton’s Raphina build a chemistry that is awkward yet deliciously believable. There is a whole kissing sequence that will make your heart burst and cringe at the same time. Each kid brings a fresh innocence to the story and builds such hope in the music and story it is absolutely infectious. Even Reynor, who I have only seen in a forgettable Transformers film, is effective. A common phrase heard about writing is to ‘write what you know.’ Well as an Irish child of the 1980s John Carney certainly does just that and I am ready to watch it again!