Sing Street (2016)

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Once again I am at an absolute loss for words – I went into Sing Street expecting something mildly amusing, at the very least a good film. I wasn’t expecting an absolute masterpiece. I was not expecting that I would see a film that would absolutely blow my mind. Sing Street is a film of the likes I haven’t ever seen – perhaps this is just the excitement talking, but it is legitimately a fantastic film, and a film that I was certainly not expecting to be this absolutely brilliant.

The film is about Conor, played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo – don’t worry if you haven’t heard that name before – he is an unknown, but hopefully not for much longer, because if there was ever a star-making turn, it was this film. Conor lives in Ireland, in a strict but struggling Irish family, and faced with the prospect of poverty, Conor is sent to the strict Christian Brothers school, Synge Street CBS, where only the roughest and toughest kids reside. The meek and artistic Conor finds himself a target, and only when he meets the alluring Raphina (Lucy Boynton), the orphaned girl who spends her days trying to be a model, that Conor finally decides to embark upon his most daring mission yet – to form a band merely to impress the girl of his dreams. Over the rest of the film, we see the ups and downs of Sing Street (the band) and their tumultuous relationship as Conor tries to steal Raphina away from her abusive boyfriend. Based only on this, Sing Street doesn’t sound like the most original story at all – and it isn’t, because teenage romance and a formation of a rag-tag group of rapscallions into a band have all been told before. However, originality isn’t always everything, because just as much as we desperately need original and innovative films, we also need people to take well-worn stories and tropes and breathing new life into it. In a film like Sing Street, the delivery is just as important as the final product.

What is it that made Sing Street so utterly perfect? Perhaps it was the decision to compose this film entirely out of newcomers and unknowns – other than Jack Reynor and Aiden Gillen (both of which are in supporting roles), this film is filled with youngsters appearing in their first film. This is a very tricky decision, as the film will instantly lose a bit of its marketing power. I hate being the person that has to constantly bring up the concept of a film being marketed, because honestly it is redundant. Other than a novelty fact about a film making or losing money, it is never the defining factor of a film. That is exactly what Sing Street – a huge contradiction to the idea of a film being marketed by star power – so honestly, while I am sure a film like this making tons of money would be wonderful, the fact that it has built buzz only on the fact that it is sweet and absolutely wonderful is a testament to how brilliant it is. While the majority of the actors in this are unknown, I do believe (and sincerely hope) that they will appear in more films, and show off the wonderful talents they put on display here, because if there is one thing independent cinema has taught me, it is that the biggest talents often lurk in the smallest films. Sing Street is exactly the kind of film that launches a young talent to fame, and each and every one of the youngsters in this film – particularly Walsh-Peelo, Boynton and Mark McKenna (who plays the rabbit obsessed Eamon) being particularly wonderful.

Let us discuss the music. John Carney is a director known for two other wonderful films – the similarly wonderful Once, which saw a beautiful romance between Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, and the more mainstream Begin Again, which saw great performances from Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley and yes, even Adam Levine. The thread that holds these three films together is music. Each of them shows the beauty that music has to unite people and bring individuals that would not have found each other together through the power of music. Carney clearly has a deep connection to music, and while Once was absolutely heartbreakingly beautiful, I connected with Sing Street far more – maybe it is the nostalgia of growing up listening to the music of The Cure, The Clash and The Jam (all of which are featured as influences on the young Conor), or maybe it is the fact that Carney found a way to show the truth of the serendipitous combination of youth and music – because for many people (if not most), music is what formed us and while family gave us our roots, music often gave us the identities and helped us discover a part of ourselves that we didn’t see often. There is a way that music touches every person that is unexplainable, but no one in their right mind actually wants it to be explained. Carney manages to show the way that music influences youth, and he does that with some honestly fantastic music choices.

However, not only is the film a great throwback to music of the past, it also features original music, and I haven’t heard such precise and brilliant original music in a film in years. Carney collaborated with some musical masters to compose some extraordinary music, and I actually was dumbfounded to discover that this was music written especially for the film. It imbues exactly what made the music of the period wonderful, and I legitimately believe that if these songs were written for real artists rather than for the film, they would become hugely popular. It is impossible to not love the music of this film, and the influence of other artists shine through frequently – and I am pretty sure that these songs can live on without the film, although the context of the film just adds layers of brilliance to the music.

Other than the music, John Carney clearly knows where his cinematic influences come from. The best part of Sing Street is that it might have a fun and feel-good, optimistic atmosphere, but it certainly isn’t fluffy or artificial in any way. It is possible to spot many homages to the “kitchen sink” realists such as Ken Loach and Tony Richardson, and even overtures of Mike Leigh. It is important to remember that while this film is most certainly a deeply entertaining film, it has its root deeply in the idea of showing the plight of many people hoping for a better life, even if they are deeply in poverty. It is as optimistic about finding a better life as it is about finding true love. The ambiguous ending leaves you with more questions than answers, but rather questions we don’t demand resolutions for, but rather the wonderful mysteries of life. It is a profoundly human film, and because of that, it is just even more poignant.

I adored Sing Street. I would be surprised to not see this on my list of the best of the year. I haven’t been moved quite like this by a film in a very, very long time. It is just absolutely beautiful – deeply emotional, poignant and hilarious. The performances were wonderful, and it just hit me on a personal level. It is just a film that is impossible to not love. Added to that, when you see the dedication at the end, and you realize what this film is really about, a huge emotional blow in struck and it is impossible to not be moved by that simple sentiment. If you haven’t seen this film, I suggest you do so as soon as possible – it is just unlike anything you will ever seen. It is just a knockout of a film, and one that I adored so very much.

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