"Rock and Roll is a risk ... you risk being ridiculed."
Coming of age films hold a special place in my heart. Through no purposeful intent whenever I think back to some of the films that are closest to my heart I think of classics like ‘Dazed and Confused’, ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘Almost Famous’. Another interesting thing they have in common is that they are all period pieces, transporting the viewer to a specific place in time through emotional power. ‘Sing Street’ follows a similar, wonderful pattern.
Dublin, 1985. Conor ‘Cosmo’ Lalor (Ferdia Walsh Peelo) and his friends assemble a band in order to catch the attention of a girl called Raphina (Lucy Boynton).
Out of all the comparisons I made earlier the one to ‘Almost Famous’ may be the one that holds the most resonance. Like Cameron Crowe’s own coming of age masterpiece ‘Sing Street’ and its director/writer John Carney’s film uses music as a means to revive memories of specific times in one’s life, evoke forgotten emotions, hopes, dreams, aspirations and the wide eyed excitement that is youth. Throughout the 20th century Ireland was seen as a turbulent and troubled location (depicted most recently in other excellent films like ‘71’) but here the streets of Dublin are used as a backdrop for a world where anything is possible and everything is probable.
Despite the fact that on the surface ‘Sing Street’ sounds like a fairly standard story but Carney’s script is able to avoid any obvious and glaring clichés, and even if it relies primarily on the most conventional of storytelling methods it is executed with such humour and heart that one will find it hard not to beam for the entirety of the movie. It just has a beautiful and undeniable charm in its small details like wearing makeup despite being a boy or the fact that the characters have started a band without even knowing how to play an instrument. There is also a great amount of dark comedy peppered throughout that gives the film a slight edge and distinct style.Carney’s direction is also superb in its own subtle way. He is one of the few people working today who fully understands and appreciates the cinematic power of music both as a narrative device, tonal establisher and emotional drive. Not only that but is occupies what was once referred to as Kitchen Sink realism within British cinema, as part of the British New Wave. That emerged during the early 1960s. It depicts troubled home lives and rough neighbourhoods and for that reason when the allure and glamour of music and the rock and roll lifestyle is shown to us it acts as an even sweeter and more enticing escape. Here music is not just a pastime it is an escape to better places both literally and metaphorically.
But a quick and poignant lesson within the film is that dreams rarely line up with reality. Not to say the film is depressing as it is in fact wonderfully uplifting, but those uplifting moments are earned not through cheap gimmicks but by showing the hardships each character has to navigate on a daily basis just to live their lives, let alone achieve their far reaching dreams. The central plot of the film also runs beautifully with the development of the characters. As the band attempts to find its own style and identity so do the teenagers that assemble it, they are young and indecisive, still struggling to decide what they want to be in life.
At the end of the day the best way to describe it is as a beautiful balancing act of both tone and character. The film is never exclusively a comedy nor exclusively a drama, and when the music does arrive it is never just a form of escapism as it drives the characters and the narrative forward in wondrous new directions. This is also helped by the superb cast, many of which are in their first major roles. Walsh Peelo is almost infuriatingly good considering this is his debut, fully conveying expressions of doubt, fear, hope and desire throughout. The supporting cast are able to display a great variation of distinct identities each with their own eccentricities. At the same time it’s easy to see them as a working group, having enough in common to identify with one another but being unique enough to stand out from the crows, even this very eccentric one.
‘Sing Street’ is a wonderful crowd pleaser, as humorous as it is heartfelt.