At this point, whenever filmmaker John Carney puts out a new musically themed movie, you should just assume that an absolute delight is coming your way. He first came on to our radar with the Academy Award winning Once, before fading away for a bit until 2013’s delightful Oscar nominee Begin Again. Now, he’s once again the same kind of charming territory with Sing Street, which could easily see a tune of his nominated again. Carney is more or less a mainstay in Best Original Song, but this film continues to show that he’s just one of the most entertaining storytellers out there. The way he uses music to enhance the cinematic experience is just so pleasing, it thrills me to my core. Sing Street takes him back to his roots in a way, mixing the Irish setting of Once with the “let’s put on a show” mentality of Begin Again, while furthering his use of actors making music on the fly in the street. With an added bit of social commentary and a period setting, this represents something slightly new for Carney, though the themes aren’t too far removed from his other works. What really ties them all together is just how good they all are, plus of course the must own soundtracks. Sing Street is as strong as anything he’s done to date, and is one of the best things I’ve seen so far this year.
The movie is set in Dublin during the 1980’s and focuses on Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a teen in a struggling family. Conor uses music as an escape from the fighting of his parents, something that older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) has done in a much bigger way, essentially giving up on life in order to just become an expert on every new band that comes around. When his father Robert (Aidan Gillen) and mother Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) send him to a new school, the state run Christian Brothers institution located on Synge Street, Conor expects the worst, but lucks out with a new friend in Darren (Ben Carolan). Moreover, outside the school stands Raphina (Lucy Boynton), an older girl looking to model for a living and escape to London. Conor claims to have a band and wants her to be in one of their videos, so when she accepts, not only is he instantly smitten, he has to form a band. From there, Conor and Darren recruit members, the former writing songs with newcomer Eamon (Mark McKenna), while the latter produces the videos. Conor of course also grows closer with Raphina, though their problematic stations in life are never far from the equation, as is the prospect of getting out of Dodge and making it in London. Though it might sound stock at times, so did Carney’s other works, and this one overcomes that in the same ways. By the end, you’ll be thrilled and delighted by this tale, I can assure you.
If there’s one shortcoming here, it’s that the performances in Sing Street aren’t quite that noteworthy. Outside of the surprisingly charismatic Jack Reynor, in fact, no one really stands out. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo fits in well as a sort of standard 80’s coming of age story lead, though he doesn’t especially elevate the role. Likewise, supporting players like Lucy Boynton, Ben Carolan, and Mark McKenna have significant roles, but they don’t jump off the screen in any way. Aidan Gillen is underutilized, as is Maria Doyle Kennedy, while the rest of the cast includes Percy Chamburuka, Conor Hamilton, Ian Kenny, Karl Rice, Kelly Thornton, Lydia McGuinness, Don Wycherley, and more. Reynor fares the best of the cast, though I don’t meant to knock Boynton, Carolan, McKenna, or Walsh-Peelo. They’re fine, but had they been a bit more compelling, this could have been damn near a masterpiece.
Writer/director John Carney also wrote all of the songs here in Sing Street, though the likely to be hit track “Go Now” was co-written and performed by Adam Levine. Frankly, either that catchy tune or “The Riddle of the Model” is all but certain to be nominated by the Academy in Best Original Song, continuing a trend that started with Once winning for “Falling Slowly” and more recently included Begin Again scoring a citation for “Lost Stars”. Like with those flicks, Carney has a simple premise here that he executes nicely, both in terms of his writing and direction. The pacing here is fantastic though, as you barely notice 106 minutes pass by. His films always fly by, with this being no exception. The addition of some social commentary about how Catholic School treated boys in Dublin during that time is a bit new for Carney, and while it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in other movies, it enhances this screenplay a bit, so it’s welcome.
Perhaps I’m just a sucker for Carney’s musical projects, but Sing Street is just flat out terrific cinema. A charming delight, the songs will be stuck in your head and the entire film will stay with you long after the lights go up. Memorable movies can be hard to come by in the first part of the year, so something as good as this deserves to be substantially feted. Right now, this is one of my three favorite 2016 releases, and that’s saying something. We’ll see if it cracks my year end top ten list, but just know that this is a must see. Especially if you like what Carney brings to the table, Sing Street will be one of the more pleasurable experiences you’ve had in a theater in some time.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!