Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a fifteen-year-old living in 1985 Dublin. He is also a nascent songwriter, the majority of his musical knowledge coming from his older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor). Robert (Aiden Gillen) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy), Conor’s parents, are on the verge of splitting up and in order to save money, they pull Conor out of private school and send him to the public Catholic school, Synge Street CBS. On his first day, Conor unknowingly violates the school’s uniform code, putting him on the radar of Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley), the Headmaster, setting up a year-long conflict. It doesn’t get any better for Conor as he also manages to get singled out by school bully, Barry (Ian Kenny). Eventually, he befriends Darren (Ben Carolan) and on the day they meet, Conor spies a beautiful girl across the street from the school. On a dare from Darren, Conor approaches the girl, a sixteen-year-old model named Raphina (Lucy Boynton), and tries to impress her by asking her to be in his music video. She tentatively agrees. Now all Conor needs is a band. He and Darren gather their band mates starting with multi-instrumentalist Eamon (Mark McKenna), who begins writing songs with Conor. Once the band, Sing Street, is formed, the members craft songs and videos, getting better and better with each attempt. All the while, Conor gets to know Raphina better while his home life crumbles.
Sing Street is an absolutely fantastic movie. There’s a ton of great humor throughout mixed with the drama of teens finding their way in the world. Yes, there are some familiar coming of age tropes, but the likability of the characters more than makes up for any shortcomings. The film is essentially a John Hughes musical. While I loved Carney’s Begin Again, the biggest issue I had with it was that the conflict really petered out about halfway through the film. Sing Street fixes that issue, making for a far more enjoyable story. It’s also a film about dreamers, which really resonated with me. Beyond all of that, though, the film is just a hell of a lot of fun, which can be attributed to the great original music written for it.
As an 80s kid myself, there is a lot of nostalgia in Sing Street and that even extends to the original songs written by Carney and Gary Clark. Each song charts the band’s evolution as well as serving as an homage to one artist or another. “Riddle Of The Model” is an electronic-infused track that would sound right at home in Wang Chung‘s discography, while “A Beautiful Sea” is clearly inspired by The Cure. The best and most refined track, though, is “Drive It Like You Stole It,” which is kind of the culmination of both the band’s development and represents Conor’s dream happy ending for his high school life. The soundtrack aside from the original songs is also great featuring songs from The Jam, Joe Jackson, The Cure, and Hall & Oates, and while their music doesn’t show up in the film, Carney won me over by making positive mention of Depeche Mode in the script.
The cast is pitch perfect (pardon the pun). The band itself is made up mostly of newcomers, but that helps the film be more realistic, I think. Walsh-Peelo is great as Conor. He does really well with both emoting for the camera and the singing. McKenna is also really good as Eamon. I likened the two boys to Bono and The Edge – which, come to think of it, it’s strange U2‘s music doesn’t pop up in the film considering they’re Dubliners who “made it.” I don’t know if that was Carney’s intention, but that was the vibe I got from their chemistry. Boynton is also great and enigmatic as Raphina. While Conor’s story is the main one here, Raphina’s adds some interesting weight to the film as a whole. I also really enjoyed Jack Reynor as Brendan, the seemingly adrift older brother who has a lot more going on in his head than he lets on. The entire cast just does such a great job here.
Overall, Sing Street is easily one of the best films of the year. If you enjoy coming of age stories as well as great music then do yourself a favor and seek this one out. You won’t regret it.