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John Carney's 'Sing Street' celebrates a boy's first love: music

The musical comedy's characters and original songs are hard to get out of your head.

'Sing Street'
Director:
John Carney
Stars:Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Jack Reynor
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

There’s almost always a solidarity motivation as to why teenage boys start a rock band — to get girls. This writer speaks from a place of no personal knowledge of this —not being male, or Irish, or a teenage product of the ‘80s — but this practically universal truth is cemented in place by films like “Sing Street.” Writer-director John Carney (“Once,” “Begin Again”) weaves the tale of square peg Dublin teen Connor “Cosmo” McKenna (played by 16-year-old newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who recruits his classmates to form a band to deal with his parents’ failing marriage, fulfill his stoner older brother’s shortcomings, and yes, impress a girl.

The band — dubbed Sing Street after the prison-like, inconsolably bleak boys’ school he’s sent to attend — features a ragtag entourage of teenage boys with somewhat unbelievably intuitive levels of musical talent. They pen original tunes and make VHS-recorded home music videos featuring an aspiring model and the focus of Cosmo’s affections, Raphina (Lucy Boynton), who whips the boys into an appropriate aesthetic level of'80s cool.

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“Sing Street” is more than wish fulfillment on Carney’s part — admittedly semi-auto-biographical, with Jack Reynor’s Brendan representing Carney’s late older brother Jim. Sing Street is a thinly veiled jab at his alma matter, Synge Street — with an unavoidable overarching message that sinks deeper than the satisfaction of getting the girl and making cool music. It’s sweet, but it can be stifling. The film stumbles in making sure you get it, right down to the point of spelling it out before the credits roll.

However, there’s greatness in the grit of Cosmo’s more shockingly unpleasant interactions, including a violent throwdown with the school’s principal/head priest who forced the teen’s makeup-laden face into a bathroom sink, seething, “No more, Ziggy Stardust.” Or his helpless melancholy as he watches his feuding parents (Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy) choose to consciously uncouple, as divorce is not yet legal in the '80s in Ireland.

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It’s certainly a boy’s tale —Raphina, a parent-less teen who dreams of a better life in London with her creepy, older boyfriend — told from a fairly misguided boy’s perspective, made especially clear when advice-schilling Brendan informs Cosmo that her daddy issues means she’ll need some “protecting.” But there’s an innocence that many coming-of-age films miss, as there’s only one mention of sex, and Connor dismisses it almost immediately. He’s in it for love — and for the music. And that, in many ways, is refreshing enough to keep us engaged.

The music of “Sing Street” is almost too polished, methodically catchy and perfectly represents a catalog of toe-tapping ‘80s singles (The Cure! Duran Duran! Hall & Oates!), but no one seems to be complaining. Carney, who took home an Oscar for Best Original Song for “Falling Slowly” from “Once” in 2008, knows how to weave a song that keeps his films’ characters strumming in your brain for days on end. U2’s Bono and the Edge lent a hand in the soundtrack’s development. Meanwhile Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, having worked on Carney “Begin Again,” provides “Go Now,” an angsty-solo ballad that bridges the gap of unknowns and the oversaturated in the eyes of the top 40. (Single ready version of two of the film’s songs were rerecorded by The Score and Hudson Thames for the soundtrack,)

Carney’s own rock band The Frames (with frequent collaborator Glen Hansard) found moderate success in the '90s, and he found even more success directing music videos and eventually films in the years following. One can assume that Connor’s mirrored fate is a happy one, with music, success and love to give and to gain. Cynics can turn scowl down this storybook theory, but it’s likely they won’t be able to — they’ll be too busy humming along.

 

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