John Carney’s “Sing Street” managed the neat trick of absolutely delighting me while making me feel very, very old.
The film is an utterly lovable musical about teenagers in 1985 Dublin starting their own pop band. It’s so much fun, until it hits the Generation Xers in the audience like myself that the film is set over 30 years ago. How can we remember the music, the clothes, the haircuts so well? Is this what it felt like for Baby Boomers to watch “That Thing You Do!” in the 1990s?
Existential angst at the passage of time aside, the film continues Carney’s run after “Once” and the underappreciated “Begin Again" about how the power of song can connect and elevate people. Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a 14-year-old boy who is moved into a rough, all boys public school (School motto: “Act manly”) because his bickering parents (Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) are experiencing money and marital problems.
At school, he’s bullied by some of the older boys and hounded by the headmaster (Don Wycherley) for daring to wear brown shoes instead of the institutionally approved black. But he also finds friendship with a couple of other boys, including some with real musical talent.
He develops a crush on an older girl, Raphina (Lucy Boynton), who dreams of a modeling career. In a rush of reckless inspiration, he offers her a part in his band’s new video. She accepts, which means he’s now got to start a band. Hey, there are worse reasons.
The band, named Sing Street (the school is on Synge Street), starts out doing Duran Duran covers, then branches out to originals. One week they’re sort of a Cure-esque rock band, the next playing Spandau Ballet-style pop.
One of the many things that “Sing Street” gets right is how Conor and his band assume and then discard different personae on the way to being themselves. Walsh-Peelo seems to age five years over the course of the film. By the end, the hesitant schoolboy we saw at the start of the film has become a confident young man ready to take on the world.
The original songs in the film are incredibly catchy (if you don’t have “Drive It Like You Stole It” stuck in your head for days afterward, you may want to get that head checked out) and there’s a sweetness that imbues every frame. Particularly strong is the relationship between Conor and his stoner older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), who has the musical taste to influence Conor but not the nerve to pursue his own dreams.
“Sing Street” is hardly original. It’s not even original for Carney. But, like a great old song that comes on the radio, just because you’ve heard it a thousand times before doesn’t mean you won’t crank it up.