John Carney’s films are always about music. His two most successful films are Once and Begin Again, both great portrayals of the independent music world in Dublin and in New York. In Sing Street he returns to Dublin and produces a film with great music, but whose story isn’t as strong.
Sing Street takes place in Dublin in 1985. It follows a teenage boy (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) as he starts at a new conservative Catholic high school. He is bullied and ridiculed by teachers and students alike; meanwhile his family is falling apart. His parents seem on the verge of a divorce, his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) is a college drop-out who spends his days giving his brother advice and smoking weed at home, and his other sister is just starting at college and tries to remain under the radar. After school one day, our protagonist sees an attractive girl on the street named Raphina (Lucy Boynton), he starts talking to her and invites her to join a music video for his band. He is amazed as she considers it, there is only one problem: he doesn’t have a band. So the film follows the making up of the band “Sing Street.”
The best thing about the film is certainly the music, each song is so carefully put together and incredibly catchy; you can’t help but tapping your foot or bobbing your head along to the beat. John Carney also infuses the score with songs from other contemporary bands most notably The Cure, The Jam, and Joe Jackson. Carney has achieved a special tone with his films that makes them so likeable and easy to consume.
The young cast did well in pulling off some very distressed characters. However, I feel that there was some miscasting with Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Lucy Boynton. The film pitches them as the romantic couple, but the problem is that Ms. Boynton seems far too old for Walsh-Peelo so that you don’t buy into her intrigue of his band or of him as a romantic interest at all. That isn’t to say that their characters aren’t written well, or even that the two actors didn’t have chemistry together; it just gave off an awkward aura to the audience.
The story has an underdog tone and is frankly adorable to watch, as the kids find an escape to life’s worries through music. But unlike his previous films, Carney tries to make Sing Street appear more complex with multiple threads and story arcs crossing each other. I commend Carney for his ambition for more, but I felt that with the story that Carney was telling, simplicity was better suited. Too much story and too much complexity, while it might give depth, it made the movie drag on at the end and it made the audience phase out when non-musical stories were being presented. Then there is the ending, which frankly was a bit disappointing; it ends a bit too well and is very unrealistic. I was surprised because I had loved the honest ending of Begin Again, so this trivial mistake by Carney was unexpected and a bummer.
Overall, Sing Street is a heck of a good time. The soundtrack alone is worth your time. The story is intriguing, even if it tries too hard, and the cast does solid work. Let us hope that Carney’s lively musical spirit never dies out.