Overview: A young musician in the 1980s starts a band in order to impress his crush and escape his difficult life. The Weinstein Company; 2016; Rated PG-13; 106 minutes.
Relationships: Sing Street, with Once‘s heart and Begin Again‘s fine tune and budget hits all the right notes, finding that perfect happy-sad (but not bittersweet) blend that its main character, born Conor but dubbed Cosmo, struggles to. The film finds Cosmo in an impoverished Ireland, transferring to a new school and struggling to understand his slowly estranging parents. Armed with nothing but his guitar, he finds a talent for music, the primary catalyst for this coming of age. Though reconciling life with art, the film at its core is an extremely passionate exploration of relationships: See Cosmo and Raphina – the mysterious love at first sight whom he tries to impress by starting the band, Cosmo and Sing Street, a scrappy group of teenagers who despite not being as fleshed out individually, allow their understandable nonchalance as friends hide a layered emotional trust and friendship, or Cosmo and his brother Brendan, a once idealistic teenager turned college dropout pothead who acts as his mentor, sharing musical influences and girl advice in some of the film’s most complex and heartfelt moments. Each of these relationships are real and powerful. Carney, with a lighthearted nature allows each relationship to be felt, without flaunting them. He fills his film with so many painfully honest moments, but also just as many earnestly funny ones, while avoiding saccharine and phony emotions. Sing Street feels like it should be a longer movie. In spite of all the characters the film does flesh out, some are in need of more, particularly the band members, and some feel pointlessly developed (an art teacher, a sister that is practically invisible).
Self-Discovery: The way the film sets itself up is quite nuanced. The poverty, pervasive emigration, the poor state of both the nation and the household are all mentioned but left simmering in the background until they explode. The film’s patience showcases true maturity; rather than judge parents or attempt heavy-handed social commentary, or even question why, writer/director John Carney practices extreme restraint- even with the film’s magical feel-good disposition. Despite its characters, who attempt to escape the island with bright-eyed ideals, Sing Street detaches itself from realistic adulthood. It is aware of how practicality can stifle dreams when they should really be pursued.
Dedication: Carney does this while simultaneously tackling all the major insecurities of youth through a teenage lens. A dream deferred, and the idea of unwittingly falling into the same trappings of your parents and growing into them are two terrifyingly real concepts that, embodied perfectly by Jack Reynor in Brendan who, though still charismatic, finds himself afflicted by both ideas. In one scene, he comments on how their mother always rushes home from work in order to enjoy one last cigarette on the porch before their father gets home. The next scene he is present in finds him sitting on the exact same step smoking – the first time he has exited the house in the entire film. Carney’s dedication to music throughout the film is truly felt. He successfully commands the tone in each scene with a fantastic score, using both the lively essential sounds of the ’80s, and also acoustic or piano covers. But the real impact comes with the film’s original songs, which do not only provide such a breadth of styles from different musical influences, or a pure, unbridled exuberance, but also extremely poignant notions, forged from the difficult to understand concepts of youth. His growth which parallels his songs occasionally leaves him with arrogant misconceptions of life, but he is always corrected and left with a matured understanding of happiness and the world around him.
Overall: There are moments which betray possible tampering with the film in favor of a more manipulative film (the ending in particular) though there are enough memorable and truly affecting moments that seem to nullify any phoniness throughout: Sing Street is a wild and charming, but still grounded and emotionally resolute, coming of age film.