When his family falls on hard times, Conor is moved from his fee-paying school to a rough local one. In a bid to make friends, work out who he is and impress a girl, he starts a band.
There’s an expression used by Sing Street’s dorky hero to describe the music of The Cure: “Happy sad”. Something that makes you feel a little dolorous, but in quite a bouncy way. The same description could be used for the films of John Carney. This is his third sort-of-musical in a row, after Once and Begin Again, and it’s another full-hearted celebration of laying yourself out for love, even if you get a bit trampled in the process. This time it concerns those most romantically dramatic of creatures: teenagers.
It’s a full-hearted celebration of laying yourself out for love, even if you get a bit trampled in the process.
In 1980s Dublin, the economic downturn means 14-year-old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, a splendid find) is taken out of his posh school and sent to the local comprehensive, a nest of furious priests and bullies thrilled to tear at fresh meat. Partly for escape, mostly to impress an older girl (Lucy Boynton), Conor forms a band. Like any teenager, these kids use pop music to understand their feelings, but Conor and his friends distill the likes of Duran Duran and The Jam into their own compositions, mentored by Conor’s older brother (Jack Reynor). It’s as much a story of brotherly love as romantic love, and equally moving on both counts. Of the younger cast, Reynor is the only recognisable face, but Carney pulls strong performances from all the fresh-faced unknowns, who have to carry an equal load of drama and comedy.
The film lets the kids be the heroes they believe they can be.
The mix of music and kitchen sink drama, plus Irishness, might make The Commitments the obvious comparator, but think more in the vein of Son Of Rambow, with music instead of movies. It shares the same interest in children making their own worlds in order to escape the one they can’t change. Carney enjoys the opportunity to show greater exuberance than his previous films allowed, getting cheerfully carried away with fantasy sequences and homemade music videos for genuinely catchy songs. They’re pastiches, but the New Romantic strut of Riddle Of The Model and the Hall & Oates-meets-the Duck Tales theme tune bounce of Drive It Like You Stole It will have you humming for weeks. Awkward as they are, the film lets the kids be the heroes they believe they can be.
Carney keeps a bass note of melancholy running throughout, with Conor’s family all in various states of resignation to ordinariness and the Dublin surroundings as cracked and faded as last night’s make-up, but it’s the hope and warmth that ring out.
Just as with Once and Begin Again, Sing Street will make you laugh, cry and leave you humming its songs for days.