Flying under the radar this spring was Sing Street, a brilliant coming-of-age piece by John Carney (Once, Begin Again) set in 1980s recession-era Dublin. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays the teenaged Conor, pulled out of private school when his parents hit tough financial times. He quickly finds himself bullied in a rowdy, hostile school. His muse arrives in the form of the mysterious Raphina (Lucy Boynton), an older girl who looks like a hairsprayed vision straight out of a John Hughes film. Conor tells her he’s in a band and asks her to be in music videos with him. The only problem is, he isn’t in a band. He barely plays the guitar. But that’s a small detail that resolves quickly as he rallies other kids on the fringe at his new school to form a band with him, and his older brother schools him nightly in the ways of Duran Duran, Hall & Oates, The Cure, The Jam, Joe Jackson and more.
Conor’s enthusiasm, kindness, love and peaceful rebellious attitude to the heavy illusion of the status quo is an alchemical experience for not only himself but everyone that he touches. He woos Raphina through his soulful lyrics, Cyrano de Bergerac style, encouraging her to reconsider her plans to leave him behind. He finds his own unique voice at the school, daring to express himself in new styles, staring down a bully with clarity and compassion.
Sing Street underscores the true love between brothers, who would do anything to help each other realize their full potential; a sweet, young, romantic love, that is ideal, pure and creatively energizing, while bringing out the best in each other; and the need to be true to who you are, overcome the odds and realize your dreams with true courage. It revolves around the power of creativity, versus the power to destroy. As Conor says to his bully, “You only have the power to stop things, but not to create.”
We love how Conor did not buy into the stories of anyone who tried to pull him down. Instead, he turned everything around him into a positive. We won’t give too much away, but even the bully ends up transformed. Even the camera’s perspective always feels sensitive and compassionate, with gentle and wry humor that never goes for a cheap laugh.
The casting choices were also refreshing in that all the musicians were played by actors who legitimately played the instruments. Their joy and chemistry at making music together is genuine.
Anyone who loved music in their teens remembers the power we felt it had to speak all the things we didn’t know how to say, transform the world we were in, or take us into another world entirely. Carney explores this potential masterfully, weaving the music into the film with perfect pacing. The soundtrack includes a well-crafted homage to some of the best the 80s had to offer. “Drive It Like You Stole It” is an ultra-catchy, energetic anthem for living life on your own terms and we suspect it has already been downloaded onto many a runner’s playlist.
Sing Street is a great blend of comedy, drama, romance and, of course, music. A must see.