“You can never do anything by half; do you understand that?” young Raphina once said, speaking of art, and of life.
While the plot reads like a typical teenage romance novel, Sing Street is a movie that progresses much beyond the popular genre of coming-of-age films, significantly elevated by its exceptional soundtrack. Set in scenic, sunny Dublin of 1985, the movie evolves almost instantly into a nostalgic treat for the lovers of the ’80s, where director John Carney’s latest venture into the world of music works like a charm as we watch fourteen-year-old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) learn about family, love, and the joys of music.
Right from the start, the strong Irish accent quickly draws us into the family drama within the Lawlor household, as the bickering parents and mismatched siblings work to set the tone for the movie. Packed with subtle sarcasm and heavy punchlines, the film instantly establishes itself as a mix of concepts that reflect the MTV-inspired generation of rock and roll. Transferred to a Christian boys school where he can be taught to ‘act manly’, Conor finds himself shuffling to Synge Street with Motorhead’s ‘Stay Clean’ working to provide the background music for the scene, a heard of awkward boys rushing about him. The image of innocence, Conor’s dramatic character progression is apparent through the movie as a result of the finesse with which every scene is scripted.
The strength of the movie lies in its multitude of characters and their well-placed presence in different parts of the story. While Conor holds the position of the main lead and the tale is one of his growth into an independent man in control of his life, the significance of the others cannot be ignored. Lucy Boynton, who plays Conor’s lady love Raphina, essentially ignites and then shines a light on his musical journey. Serving as inspiration for the band’s first original song, her aura, reminiscent of a more dolled up version of Sandy from ‘Grease’, evolves as her dreams of a future rise and crash through the film. Eamon, played by Mark McKenna, is another significant character whose presence in the film highlights friendship at its best as he helps Connor write some lyrics and make some sense of his life.
When Brendan says, “No woman can truly love a man who listens to Phil Collins” we listen on with uncertain agreement, watching actor Jack Reynor pull the movie together, both through his contribution to Connor’s musical education and through his strong yet wavering storyline in the movie. Apart from his words of wisdom that provide a few cackles throughout the movie, Brendan builds into the family angle of the narration, both increasing and diminishing the seriousness of the film in turn.
Starting by channelling synthpop ‘70s band Duran Duran, the boys shuffle through a variety of tunes to find their place in the music world, following Connor without question as he tries on style after style, while the rest of the boys look on, content with just making some music. Using the song “Rio” as the inspiration for their first original song “The Riddle of the Model”, the movie boasts its first stand out moment of pure genius, the track an echo of the music that once was, the mismatched costumes along with the mismatched boys an honest tribute to the ‘80s.
As the lyrics of their next song ‘Up’ are written and the track plays out, the movie progress slowly as we witness the band coming together, a simplistic directorial choice that works beautifully for the narration. As Connor begins to explore the concept of ‘happy sad’ while experimenting with music by The Cure, his style changes again. The innocence of their exploration of music is truly a journey of magic and mystery as the shift in their understanding of art, and the creation of something they believe in, slowly develops.
Other original tracks like ‘Drive It Like You Stole It” and “Brown Shoes” give the film its unique touch as the music hinges on outrageous yet fits the context of the story like a glove. The dark moments of the movie are perfectly balanced out by the soundtrack that chooses to take some weight off of the film, to create an atmosphere that allows us to enjoy it.
While the ending of the movie has received criticism for being overly optimistic to the point of promoting the beliefs of misguided youth, the film as a whole still stays on track with its off-centre purpose as a feel-good film as the young ones ride off into the sunrise together, setting off on an adventure, yet caught in the pouring rain as the dangers of the sea present itself to them. It’s not a happy ending but it isn’t a sad one either, furthering the ambiguous nature of hope and reality that is constantly put to the test in the film.