If you can accept its improbabilities, Sing Street is a delightful little film that feels true to its time and place.
After his middle-class Dublin family suffers some financial setbacks, baby-faced Connor (former boy soprano and first-time actor Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) finds himself enrolled in a rough Christian Brothers school, Synge Street, where the pecking order is maintained through bullying by the students and absolute authority accompanied by physical violence by the teachers. Connor’s first walk through the schoolyard resembles Andy Dufresne’s arrival at Shawshank prison, and he’s is a particular target because of what the other boys perceive as his posh background. The end credits include a note saying that Christian Brothers schools no longer operate this way, which suggests that the portrayal of Synge Street (a real school) in the 1980s hit pretty close to home.
It’s not all bad, however, because across the street from Synge Street is a group home for girls. One of the residents, Raphina (Lucy Boynton), catches Connor’s eye, and who could blame him—she’s a year older, affects a Pat Benatar style, and says she’s going to be a model. In an effort to impress her (and get her phone number) he claims to be making a music video and says he wants her to star in it. Once she agrees, he then has to create the band (he plays a bit of guitar, but only alone in his room) in order to keep up contact with her. Fortunately, he’s made one friend at school, a little guy named Darren (Ben Carolan) who puts him in touch with the talented Eamon (Mark McKenna), who is not only a real musician but also has a house full of instruments. Connor picks up a few more players from among his classmates, with Darren acting as videographer and manager, and thus is born the band Sing Street.
They begin, as many bands do, by performing covers, but Connor’s older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) tells Connor that if he really wants to win the woman of his dreams, he will have to do it with his own songs. So Connor starts supplying the band with original material, working the songs out with Eamon. At first, not surprisingly, both Sing Street’s musical and presentation skills are rudimentary (they show up in a variety of costumes for the first video, including one boy who wears a cowboy outfit and Dracula fangs), and over the course of the film, they try on a variety of musical identities, as teenagers are wont to do.
As the band gets better (rather improbably quickly, but that’s something you have to accept in order to enjoy the film), Connor also starts to come into his own, learning how to cope with the bullies and becoming less afraid of Brother Baxter (Don Wycherly), the school’s chief enforcer. He also becomes closer with Brendan, who might be a stoner and a dropout but also understands music and is eager to help his little brother find his way in the world (the film is dedicated to “brothers everywhere”). Brendan also encourages Connor (who later takes the stage name “Cosmo”) to see the potential of music as a force against tyranny, which brings about some interesting results.
Sing Street is like one of those high school movies in which the shortest kid in school becomes the hero of the championship basketball game, despite barely knowing how to play a few months prior. The fun is in seeing the particular spin put on the familiar arc, rather than wondering whether Johnny Shortpants will be the hero, the goat, or just another face in the crowd. In this case, the story is set in Ireland and our hero’s field of endeavor is popular music, but the formula works pretty much as it always does. The resulting film is a real crowd-pleaser, and just as sweet and heartwarming as can be. One word of warning: to enjoy this film you have to be willing to go where writer/director John Carney (Once) wants to take you, and not worry too much about testing what you see on the screen against your knowledge of how the world actually works.
If you can accept its improbabilities, Sing Street is a delightful little film that feels true to its time and place. The music is a big plus, and includes a number of original songs performed with Walsh-Peelo as the lead singer, as well as contemporary hits like “Rio” by Duran Duran, “Town Called Malice” by The Jam, and “Inbetween Days” by The Cure. | Sarah Boslaugh