Director John Carney continues his love affair with music through film making with Sing Street, the story of a group of schoolkids in 1980s Ireland who decide to form a band.
Sing Street is many things; it’s a coming of age story, the development of a band from nothingness to finding their own style, a love story and an exploration of what it might be like living in a broken home.
The latter is the least developed aspect of the story but it is very much at the root of it as well. Connor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) finds his life uprooted when his parents tell him that they can’t afford to continue sending him to a private school so they transfer him to the local Catholic school “Syng Street”. While there he encounters various bullying problems from both teachers and fellow students.
Throughout the film he learns that his parents are considering splitting up and this is clearly something he is unprepared for at only 15. His life has clearly been relatively easy up to this point and there’s a real sense of naivety about him at the beginning. Facing bullies and nonsensical rules that he has to follow because someone said so is completely new to him so there’s some significant adjustment needing to be done for him.
In order to escape the torment he suffers at school and the issue of his family breaking apart he decides that he should form a band. It certainly distracts him from the difficulties in life and allows him to impress a girl that he likes who also happens to be a model.
Raphina (Lucy Boynton) is Connor’s opposite in many ways. His life has always been structured and largely bereft of adventure where she doesn’t go to school and has dreams of going to London. The idea of being in a music video for his band appeals to her because it represents being rebellious which is something she seems to enjoy.
The film essentially develops along the lines of Connor and his band learning what sort of band they are as they hone their craft and make increasingly better music videos all starring Raphina as the object of the songs that are being written.
Connor’s journey mirrors that of his band with his confidence growing as the music improves and his sense of identity becoming solidified as his band gains a style all of their own. The binary development works really well and it certainly made me feel like I was along for the journey with him.
He is an incredibly likeable character who develops organically through the film. He never stops feeling real and his naive attitude to some aspects in life doesn’t ever cross over into being frustrating. He’s simply a confused young man in a less than ideal situation who only wants to make life better for him.
His relationship with Raphina develops organically as well. To begin with she doesn’t really see him as anything all that interesting but gradually she realises that there is a lot more to him than it initially appears and her walls gradually come down as she becomes better able to trust him. There’s the implication of a difficult life for her that is touched on but never overpowers the story.
At times it does feel like her only function is the unattainable love interest but the added depth she eventually receives goes some way towards fixing that. At the end of the film she isn’t developed quite as well as she could be but it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment too much.
Another significant relationship for Connor is with his brother Brendan (Jack Reynor). He is weary in life after suffering so many setbacks and has clearly given up on amounting to anything so tries to make up for it by giving Connor advice. That advice ranges from getting through life, family and love. He does this all through music. Whatever the situation he has a record that can sum it up and he’s instrumental -pun definitely intended- in helping Connor developing the band’s style.
Their interactions make for some of the best scenes in the film and it’s a really touching sibling relationship. The wise older brother trope is masterfully avoided by making him hilariously misguided about certain things but his advice still proves useful and he learns his own lessons as the film progresses.
It’s particularly impressive that the focus on a family being torn apart and the difficult adjustment to having everything in life change in such a short time, the film never becomes overly grim. The weight of the issues is never downplayed but the overall approach is an optimistic one. Connor is committed to improving his personal situation and his enthusiasm sets the tone nicely. The overall sense of optimism is certainly infectious which makes it easy to root for the characters to get themselves out of the rut they are all in.
Music plays a big role in the film with several songs peppered throughout the narrative. The original music created for the film feels right at home in the time period. Popular music from the 80s such as Duran Duran is used throughout almost as a challenge to tell the difference between the well-known music and the original songs on display. It really helps illustrate how John Carney and his team have managed to nail the sound of the time period to the point that any of the songs could be passed off as an unknown gem from back then.
Whether you like the music or not will be entirely down to personal taste. If you like rock and pop from the 1980s then chances are you’ll have a great time with the songs in this film. I certainly did and they are perfectly placed to get the desired emotional reaction at the right time. The entire structure of the film hangs on them and it works really well.
An excellent film that completely nails the musical style of the 1980s with really infectious original songs. The development of Connor as a character as well as his band is handled really well throughout with a believable character arc and a touching sibling relationship. Elements of the love story didn’t quite work for me but it wasn’t badly handled in general. The whole experience of watching the film is really uplifting and I challenge anyone not to have a good time with this one.
- great music
- engaging characters
- an infectious sense of optimism
- a love story that doesn’t quite work