I liked Sing Street pretty much from the word go and only went on to like it more from that point onwards. As this musical comedy/drama eased into its period 1980s Ireland setting, I totally fell for its romantic, almost old-fashioned view of the world: John Carney’s film believes that creativity has a purpose no matter how tough circumstances might be, and that expressing oneself can lead to great things – not necessarily in terms of financial success or wish fulfilment, but in self-discovery.
With a cast of mostly little-known actors, Carney’s film tells the story of Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), who is forced to move from his expensive private school to a gritty state school in order for his parents to save money. Things get off to a pretty bad start, but when Conor finds the mysterious and beautiful Raphina (Lucy Boynton) standing on the steps outside school, he manages to charm her the way his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) tells him will be successful – by telling her he’s in a band. From there, Conor has to gather together a disparate group of kids – most of whom are poor but talented – to form a rock band. Raphina, who stars in the band’s videos, becomes Conor’s muse, and the songs he writes reflect their burgeoning relationship.
What a good-natured, uplifting film this is; and not in the cheesy sense, either. I found Sing Street to be a joyous experience, successfully combining a fairly traditional coming-of-age story with the quirks of a musical. As Conor, Walsh-Peelo is fantastic, effortlessly conveying the feeling of first love and the joy of discovering expression through music. Lucy Boynton is just as good opposite him, and the two share an increasingly irresistible chemistry that becomes the heart of the film. In fact all of the young cast do a great job, from the members of Conor’s makeshift band to the local bully, bringing spark and laughs to Carney’s witty script. The setting feels real: Carney establishes that these are mostly poor families, and that these kids have a lot to deal with, but watching them get by in each other’s company is rewarding.
Then we have the musical side of things, which I felt complemented the story beautifully. This is not your traditional song-and-dance musical – though Carney does briefly indulge in a well-staged (and sensibly hallucinatory) number – but instead weaves the songs into its narrative. Not all of the original numbers in here are masterpieces, but they are strong enough that they help carry the narrative along. They work because the characters making them are believable and likeable.
Carney wisely allows the adults in the film to take a back seat to his impressive young cast, and through them the film blossoms. Sing Street works as a coming- of-age drama, a romance, a musical, and more, all of which feeds into its pleasingly upbeat, inspirational message. When I got out of the cinema I immediately wanted to see it again.