By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s film is the latest addition to Dublin-born writer/director John Carney’s resume. He is still running with the musical theme but this time he is telling a coming-of-age tale in Sing Street.
His last ‘musical’ production was back in 2013 with the Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley helmed film Begin Again. That received very little acclaim and perhaps rightly so.
But now, in 2016, John has released his best film yet in the form of Sing Street. In fact, let me tell you why this is one of the best films of the year…
Sing Street centres on 15 year old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who starts a band with five of his friends in 1980s Dublin. Through his music and videos, he tries to impress a mysterious girl (Lucy Boynton) whilst also escaping his strained family life.
We first meet Conor round the family table as Aiden Gillen (Game Of Thrones) cascades to his children that they need to cut back on costs. This leaves Conor having to attend a public school ran by a dodgy priest and needing to evade the school bully daily – pretty standard. However, when Conor meets the ‘girl next door’ character of Raphina; everything changes.
Once Conor adopts the persona of ‘Cosmo’ and decides to make a band to impress Raphina, we get to meet his crew. Cosmo’s band members are just as pathetically enchanting, especially dead-behind-the-eyes Eamon (Mark McKenna). He has a crazy obsession with rabbits that’s never explained.
The best three characters though are Conor, Raphina and Cosmo’s brother-come-mentor Brendan. The brother, played by an impeccable Jack Reynor, is the closest character we have to a narrator. He guides the film throughout by imparting wisdom onto young Conor. The film is dedicated to the bond that brothers have, and it is a clear theme throughout Sing Street. Brendan has missed his chance of making something of himself, so he wants to make sure his little brother doesn’t follow suit. Brendan is just as important character as the two leads.
The ‘happy-sad’ couple (one of the best words used on screen for a while) are made for their roles. John Carney delicately tells a story that showcases just how fragile humans can be. Conor begins as a happy-go-lucky pupil who transforms into a Robert Smith frontman who could easily sign a record deal. Raphina is a little different. She puts on a front but is actually haunted by her past. Conor provides the escape she needs and the audience wills for them to succeed. The most impressive feat that Carney triumphs with is the role reversal by Cosmo and Raphina. He allows Conor to gradually put more and more make up on as he finds his identity, whereas Raphina slowly puts less and less on as we explore who she really is. It’s exquisite writing.
Sing Street is very much a polarising film in terms of themes and personality – or ‘happy-sad’ if you will. The soundtrack serves as a constant reminder to what stage the film is currently in. There are jolly songs, love songs and melancholy songs. The film is neatly broken up by the soundtrack and it really moves the film on. The memorable ‘Drive it Like You Stole It’ is the fetching tune that has such a feel-good moment in a key part of the film.
To accommodate the happy part of the music, Carney also crafts the ‘sad’. Sing Street doesn’t shy away from sombre themes like the oppressive priest who runs the school, the breakdown of Conor’s parents’ marriage and finally, Raphina’s dark past with her parents. You could argue these aren’t explored enough but we the fundamentals are there. We follow Conor and his brotherly guidance from Brendan – everything else is on the side.
The biggest debate with Sing Street that I have noticed is the finale. I don’t want to spoil it but I truly believe it fits in with the ethos of the film. The majority of critics are saying it’s too soft and happy, but is that a problem? I think the message that is behind it really shines through. It reminds you that the film is about the bond between brothers.
In the end, John Carney delivers an energetic and joyous film. The character growth and narrative is compelling. To also hear the tunes of the 1980s anthems is welcomed as it eases the story along. It’s such a subtle film, but in fact, it somehow gentle twists your ear and shouts at you. The film is an utter delight that will stay with you long after the credits come up. Sing Street is genuine, raw and has incredible comic poignancy. It’s a special treasure that’s written with impressive skill and leaves the audience wanting to hug the nearest person possible - It’s perfect. No superlatives will do it justice.
Cineroom’s Rating: 5 Stars
Sing Street is currently showing at the Phoenix Leicester cinema until 2nd June with also a limited release around the UK – Certificate 12A