Words by Matt Poe
“Sing Street” (2016)
A young boy in 1980s Ireland falls in love with a mysterious girl. The only way to win her heart is to rebel and start a band with some help from his friends and older brother.
Category: Comedy, Drama, Music
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including strong language and some bullying behavior, a suggestive image, drug material and teen smoking
Starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Jack Reynor and Lucy Boynton
Written and directed by John Carney
Welcome back to another edition of Poe’s Picks. Folks, the holidays are slowly ascending upon us and, good God, I cannot believe we’ve almost wrapped up 2016. The holidays serve as the perfect time to binge-watch and catch up on all things Netflix.
So while the semester is revving down, I hope to continue to give you a few more Poe’s Picks that you can use as ammunition to get away from Uncle Alan or Aunt Esther’s political rants when family visits. Trust me, I’ve practically got my Ph.D. in avoiding family time at this point.
My nostalgia always tends to kick in hard this time of year. I’m not sure if it’s the reflection of the end of the year or the realization that, holy shit, another year went by. (*Stares in mirror, sees shadow of a man he once was.*) Anyway, I love movies that have a retro feel and put me in a time and place that I wasn’t able to experience. “Sing Street” did that for me and more.
Set in 1980s Dublin, Ireland, Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a 15-year-old boy who suddenly must transfer schools as his family has fallen on financial hardships. As the film immediately explains, the Irish economy was in the crapper and many were struggling just to pay mortgages and send their children to school. The Troubles, an era marked by violence and unrest in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s through 1990s, was also weighing heavy on the country and neighboring country of Great Britain.
Financial troubles aren’t the only thing weighing Conor down. His parents fight endlessly and separation seems eminent. He finds solace in watching music videos of bands such as Duran Duran with his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor). During his initial time at the new all-boys school known as Synge Street, Conor comes across a mysterious girl named Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Instantly, he’s floored by her and after learning she’s a “model,” he asks her to be in a video for his band. Only problem? He doesn’t have a band.
He eventually forms a ragtag group of classmates, led by the multi-talented Eamon (Mark McKenna) and Conor begins his initial pursuit to impress Raphina. But it’s not that simple. Raphina is a few years older than him and plans to leave for London to pursue another life, as many adolescents did during this time in Ireland. With time working against him, Conor persuades Raphina to star in some of their music videos and the two form an intricate relationship.
I’ve done a poor job of explaining this movie. But what I can say is I was absolutely floored and blown away by “Sing Street.” The film was written and directed by John Carney, who previously appeared on this blog in the also-great “Begin Again.” Here, he does wonders with the film. In fact, I think he one-upped himself.
The movie is not a musical but the music is what drives it and is at the soul of this film. There’s some nice side plots to go along as well, such as the parental strife between Conor’s parents, and his dealing with the school bully (Ian Kenny) and the school headmaster (Don Wycherley). But the show belongs to the music and the group of virtual no-names casted in their respective parts.
Reynor is a scene-stealer as Conor’s rebellious older brother who finds little comfort in anything after dropping out of college. His scenes of giving advice to his younger brother are hilarious and in the final scenes, he sends goosebumps up your spine. Walsh-Peelo portrays our hero Conor with a brilliant act that walks a tightrope: he’s young and naïve when it comes to girls and other things, but wise beyond his years in understanding how Raphina makes him feel. The way he channels her into his music is beautiful.
And Boynton, as the aforementioned Raphina, is the star. Her role as the mysterious girl from across the street continually surprises us as she does the unexpected again and again. Keep an eye out for her because I’m guessing she’s going to explode on the acting scene here soon.
I loved this movie. I’m a huge fan of ‘80s British music, including Depeche Mode, New Order, Joy Division and The Cure, the last probably being my favorite. Those bands got me through a lot of sad and depressing times in my life. It’s the kind of music that Raphina describes as “happy-sad” and I wouldn’t argue with that. Many of the aforementioned bands’ music appear in the movie and if you are a fan of them or any ‘80s New Wave music, I guarantee you’ll be entranced.
A lot of today’s movies about young people in love are quick on the raunch and cheap on the genuineness. “Sing Street” is the exact opposite. Here, we have a story and film that cares as much about its characters as Conor does Raphina. The subtleties of their scenes together are something else.
“Sing Street” is on my short list of the best films of 2016 and as of now, it’d be the one film this year I’d recommend to you more than any without having to go to the theater. It’s that good. You’ll be lost in this gem instantly and much like first love and the thrill of a “dare to be great” situation, you won’t want it to end.
Until next time.
In Good Films We Trust,
Matt “Roger Ebert wishes he was half the film critic I am” Poe