Published Apr 20, 2016Irish filmmaker John Carney's work isn't for everyone. His films are extremely earnest, often sentimental; most of them deal with the complexities of romantic relationships, as well as familial ones, and the majority of them have a strong musical bent (his 2007 film, Once, won an Oscar for Best Original Song, and in doing so helped catapult the careers of songwriting duo Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, aka the Swell Season). But Sing Street, his first film since the slightly uneven Begin Again, may be his most honest and accessible yet.
Switching out the aging and increasingly jaded idealists of his last film in favour of a younger, more wide-eyed cast of Irish characters, Sing Street concerns itself primarily with Conor (played by total newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, starring here in his first film), a boy from a soon-to-be-broken family whose only solace comes from watching Top of the Pops and videos from the emerging new wave acts of the day. Forced by his family into a lower quality Catholic school in an attempt to keep costs down, he meets Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a slightly older girl and wannabe model he decides to impress by saying he has a band (he doesn't). Fancying her, he forms one just so she can star in their video, but he ends up falling in love with making music, as well.
It's a straightforwardly emotional love story, but that's one of Sing Street's biggest strengths, as one can't help but feel for Conor and his band's awkward attempts at meeting girls, making music and finding an identity (visually, the band's outfits change depending on whichever artists are in fashion at the time). It all feels a lot more natural compared to his previous stories, in part because of its setting in the past (not everyone can connect with wanting to make it in the music industry, but one doesn't have to have lived through the '80s to feel a similar sense of nostalgia watching the film's teenagers clumsily manoeuver their way through life).
Each of Carney's last three films have involved musical protagonists that drive much of the story through their lyrics, but American actor Jack Reynor, as Conor's older brother Brendan, may be the most relatable. A college dropout with obtuse opinions on the state of music, his greasy ponytail and Lester Bangs-in-Almost-Famous-esque love for bold statements — "Rock'n'roll is a risk," and, "No woman can truly love a man who listens to Phil Collins," he declares in two important scenes — may irk some, but the bond he and Conor develop in the film is almost more meaningful to the story than the music itself (Carney dedicates the film to "brothers everywhere," and his own brother, Kieran, a director as well, is likely at the top of the list).
With Sing Street, Carney not only emphasizes the power of music in people's lives, but the importance of family in them, as well.