Sing Street Review
As time passes by and our dreams subside and memories vanish we’ll always remember the songs that made us cry and the songs that saved our life. The music of our formative years is an irrepressible link back to the past when we blindly always believed in our soul, felt indestructible and simply gold. Through the eternal power of new wave pop from the 1980s, Sing Street captures the possibility of youth in all its glory. Bundling the best of the British Isles through The Commitments, Pride and The Full Monty, director John Carney hits all the right notes with an earnest mix of music, comedy, nostalgia and heart. Dare I say it? I’ll whisper it…Sing Street is the best film of the year so far.
It’s 1985 and Ireland is deep in the mire of a recession. In Dublin the Lalor household is struggling to come to terms with the country’s financial woes. Father Robert’s (Aiden Gillen) architecture practice is getting no business, sending the family into financial and personal turmoil. The sacrificial lamb for the family is youngest son Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who is taken out of his expensive fee-paying school and moved to a heavily religious state school, Synge Street CBS.
His smart–aleck elder brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) jokingly warns him about the kiddy fiddling priests, but Conor has bigger problems ahead of him facing a wave of nasty boys in a nasty school. There’s brawling, gobbing, and even rats impaled on sticks doing the rounds at Synge Street. Ridiculed for knowing France is on the continent and targeted by the local skinhead, Conor finds respite in the form a mysterious girl lingering on the street corner.
She’s as smooth as silk, cool as air, and quite literally makes Conor want to cry at her beauty. Her name isn’t Rio, it’s the equally exotic Raphina (Lucy Boynton), but she’s destined to be a girl on film. Inspired by Duran Duran on Top of the Pops, Conor, in a desperate bid to impress the self-professed model, invites her to star in a music video for his band. The only problem is Conor doesn’t actually have a band. With the help of some unlikely lads, Conor forms Dublin’s answer to Rock ‘n’ Roll High School; Sing Street.
As I’ve alluded to with my crass lyrical references, Sing Street’s unique joy comes in the form of its soundtrack. 1985 takes us back to a golden age of pop where the likes of Ah-Ha, The Cure, Spandau Ballet, Kate Bush, The Police and Depeche Mode ruled the charts. Unlike say Billy Elliot where the soundtrack merely evokes the period, Sing Street’s music plays a crucial role in the narrative. One of the great pleasures of the film is seeing how Conor’s band evolves in line with the musical shifts of the period; an early synthesised sound makes way for the “happy-sad” backcombing world of Robert Smith, before a charge into New Romantic foppery. Director Carny, who has a habit of infusing film and music, shows an expert understanding of the musical period not only through the aesthetic touches, but in Sing Street’s original songs that make a strong pass for genuine era offcuts in their prominent live performances.
The film opens to an Irish news broadcast lamenting the mass exodus of job seeking youths to the UK. It’s this aspirational hope of something better that forms the foundation of Sing Street’s tale. For Raphina it’s a modelling career, for Connor it’s the prospect of international stardom, for his mother (Maria Doyle Kennedy) it’s a new bloke and for his brother it’s a missed opportunity. The notion of being trapped where you ain’t getting nowhere, living in a dump, knowing there’s something happening somewhere is a youthful one and Sing Street offers a deceptively bleak look at maturity. Brendan is constant source of charisma and comedy – never more so than during his wry observation “no woman can truly love a man who listens to Phil Collins” – but he exists as a perpetual reminder of wasted potential and regret. With every grown up character on the road to nowhere it would be easy for the story to get rather dour. Yet instead of dwelling on the past we’re whisked away in the film’s youthful exuberance.
You’re fearless and brave, you can’t be stopped when you’re young, and Sing Street implores this idealistic time of possibility and nostalgia. Conor attempts, and inevitably succeeds, in forming a band, escaping the humdrum and getting the gorgeous girl. He lives the daydreams of our youth that we never could. It’s the vicarious nature of Sing Street that makes it all the more heart-warming and empowering. Towards the end the film errs towards the queasy sap of Pretty in Pink, but you can forgive the odd dud note in an otherwise pitch perfect adventure.
In a time when filmmakers are all the same and everyone’s jumping on everyone else’s train, Sing Street is a joyous ode to being yourself. Director Carny understands that pop music isn’t merely a hobby or fad, it’s a way of life. Growing up and navigating the mad mad world is a scary prospect alone, but when you’ve got a stack of records under your arm it suddenly doesn’t seem quite so daunting. It’s no coincidence that the soundtrack to our youth seamlessly becomes the soundtrack to our life. Like the best music, Sing Street takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions – one moment it’s making your dreams come true, the next minute you’re hanging down your head for sorrow – but most importantly, it sticks with you like a perfect pop harmony in your head.
9/10 – Sing Your Life
Did you manage to spot all the painfully awkward 70s/80s song references I squeezed in the review? Here they are below if you were thrown by their subtle integration:
- Gold (Spandau Ballet)
- Rubber Ring (The Smiths)
- Baggy Trousers (Madness)
- Maria (Blondie)
- Rio & Girls on Film (Duran Duran)
- Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (The Ramones)
- Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen)
- Road to Nowhere (Talking Heads)
- When You’re Young (The Jam)
- Jumping Someone Else’s Train ( The Cure)
- Mad World (Tears for Fears)
- You Make My Dreams Come True (Hall & Oats)
- Hang Down Your Head (Tom Waits)
- Harmony in My Head (The Buzzcocks)