Filmmaker and former frontman for the Irish band “The Frames” John Carney completes his ode-to-music trilogy with “Sing Street” — following the star-studded “Begin Again” in 2013 and the excellent but underrated “Once” in 2007.
Carney’s stories have sold us the idea that the will to make music solves life’s problems and generates a deep and lasting joy. Up until this installment, though the boy may have got the music but he never got the girl. They always cared about each other and were united in their love for music, and Carney left it at that. In “Sing Street,” however, there’s a chance for love to prevail. It feels like Carney’s characters are finally getting the fate they deserve, and that’s not just a demo tape and career prospects.
The year is 1985 and youths around the world are agog at the awesomely cool, brand-new phenomenon known as the music video. In Dublin, for brothers Brendan (Jack Reynor) and the younger Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), music videos keep them sane and able to face the dreariness of life. Brendan has dropped out of school and hangs around getting stoned, while family issues result in Conor being pulled out of a private school and transferred to the local Catholic school, controlled by sadistic priests and thug students.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||106 mins|
The Irish economy is in shambles, the nation’s youth are making a mass exodus to England for employment, and everywhere Conor turns the news is awful. At home, mom Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and dad Robert (Aidan Gillen) fight all the time, usually over money (or the lack thereof).
There is, however, a big “but” in this pessimistic narrative, and as in all John Carney’s films, that but is followed with “there is music.”
Music serves as both the salve and the escape from the depressing blah-ness of the brothers’ reality. With master precision, Carney captures the wordless longing of Conor and Brendan as they listen to and watch Duran Duran, The Cure and other greats from the era. There was a whole other world out there, if only they could get a foot in the door that leads to it.
Conor is much more motivated than his brother Brendan, primarily because he finds the girl of his dreams and wants to impress her. And what better, if not cliched way, to do it than with a band. Forming a band seems the most effective way to turn a girl’s head, especially if she happens to be the artistic and complex Raphina (Lucy Boynton), whom Conor encounters on his way home from school.
Raphina, who lives in a home for orphaned girls, is street-wise, going out with an “older man” and has aspirations to be a model. Still, when Conor approaches her and persuades her to star in his music video, she agrees. Conor isn’t actually in a band, can’t really play an instrument and has no idea how to perform. But it’s 1985, a time when someone always knew someone who could play guitar, drums or the keyboard. With three friends, Conor sets about forming Sing Street, all the while turning to Brendan for brotherly advice on music and love.
Brendan seems to know it all — what to sing, how to sing it, even how to approach a producer, though he seems to have learned all this from mostly from sitting on the couch and getting stoned. The wiser Raphina coaches Conor on style, showing him the right makeup for boys and telling him to change his name to the more arty Cosmo.
Ah, youth and young bands! No matter the obstacles and pitfalls along the way, it’s always a beautiful journey, especially in a Carney movie. But once the youths get to where they’re going, how do they retain that starry-eyed enthusiasm? Carney has never really answered that question and “Sing Street” is no exception. We are only given precious memories of a journey undertaken, wrapped in a glittering shell of hopeful optimism.
Maybe it’s just enough to bask in the glow of the music.
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