Friday, 27 May 2016

SING STREET review

When Connor is forced to move schools in 1980's Dublin, he finds himself struggling to fit in until he meets a girl that gives him a reason to make friends; he's going to need other members for the band he's just told her he's in. Director John Carney made a splash with Once back in 2007, leading to Oscar glory and a popular stage musical adaptation. Since then he has dipped his toe into Hollywood filmmaking with the similarly musical Begin Again, and has now reached some sort of middle ground with Sing Street.

Based on the Christian Brothers Synge Street school in Dublin that Carney himself attended (with the lead character of Connor clearly semi-autobiographical), it's a trip down memory lane looking at the fashions, friendships and fun times that helped shape his love of music. Musical teenagers is certainly not a new concept for the big screen, with School of Rock and the under-rated but excellent Bandslam being obvious comparison points. It also brings to mind the long forgotten but influential 1998 Channel 4 series The Young Person's Guide to Becoming a Rockstar, featuring similarly pre-naturally talented teens making their way into the music industry.

Forging friendships with his classmates as a means to create the band, apart from a couple of scenes with Eamon his chief songwriting partner, Connor's relationships with his other band mates are under explored. His first interaction with Darren leads to the formation of the band, but that character is sidelined and sadly under used after that. It's a potential mis-step by John Carney, but it could be read that this is less about the formation of a band than it is about the creation of a frontman.

The songwriting process is often skimmed over or summed up in a montage, but to not include the trial and error stage of this band's journey through The Cure to Hall and Oates and beyond is to paint an unrealistic picture of musical creativity, a problem that beset Once and Begin Again too, but to a lesser degree. Thankfully, not only are the songs competently written and performed but they're real earworms without a dud among them. In that respect Sing Street is a complete fantasy; but this is a teenage romance. What's wrong with a bit of fantasy?

Set in 1985 at the heyday of John Hughes' output, it shares a lot of his themes and romantic idealism. Crucially, it isn't just music Connor wants to make about/for the girl that's entered his life, it's a film; or more accurately, a music video. This is particularly relevant during the performance of Drive it Like You Stole it, where Connor's romantic ideals spill over from fiction and into fantasy. Moving from real world to studio based production values, it's constructed so that the clip can be used as an actual music video, but actually says a lot about Connor's world view.

In this autobiographical nostalgic fantasy Carney isn't quite sure what ending to give it, torn between giving his lead the girl of his dreams (Lucy Boynton makes for a impossibly perfect muse for Connor, although she looks waaaay too old for him) or making him follow his newfound career path. Likewise Connor's parents, who are completely oblivious to their son's newfound skills as a performer and are under developed. He does have a great relationship with his older brother, Brendan (a pot smoking college dropout with an extensive record collection and a habit of spouting wisdom but not taking his own advice), and Jack Reynor is able to bring a much needed family connection to the film. The scenes between him and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo are among the best in the film.

Despite some minor niggles, Sing Street is a fun journey through musical styles and influences; a thoroughly charming film that will leave audiences with an overwhelming sense of joy and nostalgia, and quite a few songs swimming around in their head. One for romantics and New Romantics everywhere.

Verdict
4/5

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