Back when I first started writing reviews in 2014, an early entry I came across was John Carney’s Begin Again, a film that I was left mostly underwhelmed by due to its skeletal plot that existed purely for the exhibition of some pretty damn good original music. Writer-director Carney is back again with Sing Street, and it seems as though he has taken the lessons of his previous film to heart, because this movie not only feels like a fresh start for the director, but he delves into some deeply personal territory to tell a touching and memorable musical drama that should bring him some much deserved acclaim from critics and audiences alike.
Set in 1985 Dublin, Carney tells a semi-autobiographical tale through his fourteen year old protagonist, Conor. Conor lives with his constantly fighting parents and has only his older college-dropout brother to look to for guidance and companionship. In order to save money, Conor’s parents pull him out of his school in order to attend a less prestigious Catholic academy, where he is the target of bullying from both a fellow student and a headmaster who is not so subtly implied to be a child molester. One day, though, he sees a girl across the street, whom he develops an instant infatuation for. He tells her that he has a band and that he wants her to model for him in a music video. She agrees, but there’s just one problem: Conor doesn’t have a band yet.
In short order he manages to assemble some of the school’s misfits into the semblance of a musical group, and they start out undeniably rough, mimicking the artists that influence them without much of a sound to call their own. However, as time goes on and the boys practice with one another, the music starts to take shape, first as tributes to their inspirations but eventually as a sound of their very own, which by the way is some of the best original music I’ve heard in a film for a while now. Carney has a unique gift for conveying the fun and energy of writing music, and watching Conor and his band develop over the course of the film is engaging on a musical level and, more importantly, as a demostration of Conor's coming of age.
And it works so well as a coming of age story that it’s pretty forgivable that no character is well developed as Conor or his love interest, Raphina. Due to the autobiographical nature of the story, Conor’s perspective is limited, yet the movie doesn’t enter the too-easy pitfall of making Raphina a one-dimensional object to lust after. She’s enigmatic at first, yet eventually reveals enough personal motivation and insecurity to stand on equal footing with the film’s lead, and the chemistry the two share feels like a genuine expression of young love. It’s rooted in an awkward sense of humor that the film exudes throughout, a sense that these kids could have been people we grew up with and that their slightly uncomfortable mannerisms and speech patterns aren’t too far off from how we were at their age.
All in all, Sing Street is a pretty damn entertaining film. With some fantastic lead performances, a cheeky sense of humor, and some incredibly catchy music, John Cagney has established that he can do more than assemble a series of music videos into a feature length amalgamation, ironically enough by making a movie about kids making a series of music videos. This is definitely one to seek out in a theater wherever you can find it, and then buy the soundtrack to keep the memory of the experience alive. Which reminds me, I have an iTunes purchase to make….