Rating: A-/ Fifteen-year-old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is in a bit of a bind. His squabbling parents (Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) are officially broke and have decided to transfer him from his posh private school to a tough inner city Dublin school, which it soon becomes clear is a complete hellhole where the students go totally fucking Lord of the Flies and the teachers sit back and do nothing. Bullied on his first day by the virulent Barry (Ian Kenny,) Conor finds a release by starting a band with some classmates to impress an aspiring model (Lucy Boynton) one year his senior, despite not knowing the first thing about music.
Aided by his pothead, layabout brother and resident wiseass Brendon (Jack Reynor,) Conor comes into his own, but he must fight for his dreams when his family unit deteriorates. In the meantime, he captures the curiosity of the girl, Raphina, makes a couple of good friends, and discovers a aptitude for music he never knew he had. Sing Street is the first movie by writer/director John Carney I have seen, and it is actually pretty delightful, if you can overlook the Hollywood direction some of the scenes in the final act take. The young actors are wonderful, the characters are likable, and the film maintains a perfect combination of optimism and heartbreak.
That is to say, the thing Sing Street really excels at is invoking positive emotions while at the same time not disregarding the darker aspects of life that teens in tough situations sometimes have to go through. You don’t just watch the movie; you feel the emotions along with the characters. During one of the best ‘expectations vs. reality’ scenes in recent years where Conor slips into a colorful fantasy while performing his music on stage, the bittersweetness of adolescence is vividly brought to life. Nothing goes quite the way you expect or want it to, but if you’re lucky, eventually you learn to live with your disappointment.
My favorite of the kids in the band was definitely the extremely deadpan, rabbit-loving Eamon (Mark McKenna,) but unfortunately not all of budding musicians are well-developed, or even given the slightest consideration. The black kid, Ngig (Percy Chamburuka) and the two generic kids (can’t remember their names) who are the last to join the band when they see an ad for it on the bulletin at school aren’t developed at all, beyond maybe the most rudimentary outline of a personality. In fact, most of the focus is not on the kids in the band but on the relationship between Conor and Raphina, and to a lesser extent, the relationship between Conor and his brother Brendon, who feels like a failure because of his apparent inability to get his life together and get away from his obnoxious parents.
Simply put, Sing Street is a charming film with infectious music and characters. The narrative might not be perfect (the script gets less and less plausible as it goes on, for example) but despite dark moments, it’s almost impossible to come out of this film feeling bad. Being a music enthusiast would probably help you enjoy this movie, but it certainly isn’t a prerequisite. A movie for anyone who’s ever been a teenager, or at least anyone who remembers being one, Sing Street is a likable gem.