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Review: Sing Street (2016)

Sing Street (2016)

Directed by: John Carney

Premise: Set in Dublin in the mid-1980s, a teenager (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) puts together a band to impress a girl he likes. As the band members find their style, the young band leader copes with life in a tough school and with the dissolution of his parent’s marriage.

What Works: Sing Street is a getting-the-band-together movie and it excels at that. As in a lot of rock-and-roll films, it’s about young people finding themselves in music. That’s one of several elements that distinguishes Sing Street; the picture is about the adolescent search for identity and it melds the music with the character development. The teenage band members fumble their way through their initial performances and their badness and enthusiasm is disarming and endearing. As their music improves, the students’ confidence in their musicianship gives them a sense of control over their lives. Sing Street takes place in Dublin in the 1980s among characters who hover just above poverty and the film has an effective sense of time and place. It recreates the style of the period in a way that is organic. That’s another distinguishing aspect of Sing Street; it isn’t overwhelmed by its own nostalgia. At the moment there is a lot of nostalgia for the culture of the ’80s and viewers who are fond of that period will get a kick out of Sing Street but unlike some films with nostalgic appeals the characters are of their moment. The film admirably includes the non-politically correct attitudes and language of the time. That gives Sing Street some additional credibility and edge. The film is further distinguished in the way it creates characters with depth and nuance. The band leader, played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, develops over the course of the story from an innocent introvert to a rebellious rock and roller but not in a way that is pretentious or obnoxious. As the band comes together, his parent’s marriage falls apart and music takes on an entirely different value in his life. This theme is reinforced by the characterization of the older brother, played by Jack Reynor. He’s an aimless young man who lives at home and plays mentor to his younger sibling but the film later reveals his own anxieties. It is especially notable the way Sing Street presents its main female character, played by Lucy Boynton. Walsh-Peelo’s character forms the band for the purpose of impressing her and Sing Street is at risk of tokenizing this young woman. She is initially presented as the 1980s equivalent of the manic pixie dream girl but this young woman is gradually revealed to be more than that and the script and Boynton’s performance give her depth. Sing Street’s complex characterizations occur against a background that is equally vivid and the film digs into the way music can uplift the sprit. Sing Street does not foolishly suggest that music will make everything okay but it does provide a way for these young people to assert themselves and better their lives. That gives the movie substance and dramatic stakes that go beyond most rock-and-roll movies.

What Doesn’t: The getting-the-band-together premise of Sing Street is familiar from such a wide variety of films as The Blues Brothers, Once, and The Rocker. The movie operates within a well-defined story formula. It enriches the familiar tropes with authentic characters and nuanced themes but the plotting is overall very familiar and there aren’t a lot of surprises along the way. Among the tropes on display in Sing Street is the escape from the small town to the big city. In American films this would involve going to New York or Nashville; in Sing Street it’s about getting to London. As older viewers can attest, that dream of escape to the big city is shot through with naiveté. But the filmmakers of Sing Street execute the cliché in a way that maintains the uncertainty of the future and that preserves the movie’s credibility.

DVD extras: Featurette, interviews, and cast auditions.

Bottom Line: Sing Street is another great musical drama from filmmaker John Carney, following Once and Begin Again. Sing Street is as good and occasionally better than Carney’s previous efforts. The movie is a lot of fun but it is also emotionally impactful and thematically complex.

Episode: #630 (January 15, 2017)