It’s great when one movie feels like an amalgam of a few other movies you really enjoy and yet feels unique and powerful in its own right. In that way, SING STREET hits all the right notes, a great film I’ll enjoy for years to come.
When the film starts, we learn that Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is being forced to switch schools in order to allow his family to save the tuition money, as times are tight for them in 1985 Dublin. His father (Aiden Gillen of Game Of Thrones fame) hasn’t had much work lately, and his mom’s work schedule has been reduced to three days a week, leaving them plenty of time to make a toxic home environment as they fight every night, loudly enough that their children have to turn up the music to drowned it out. Bullied as the new kid by some of his peers and the principal, Conor ends up finding his niche and a group of friends through necessity. Having seen the lovely Raphina (Lucy Boynton) hanging out near his school, he tells her that she should be a model in his band’s music video. The only problem? He’ll need to put together a band first!
The tone of SING STREET reminds me quite a bit of two movies that I love, in the way that both RUSHMORE and BILLY ELLIOT both involve very creative protagonists whose families are going through tough times, emotionally and financially, and the exploration of how they go about making the best of the situation through an artistic outlet. Max Fischer writes and directs plays, Billy Elliot cultivates his talent for ballet, and Conor dives deep into the world of Futurist music.
There are several really strong aspects of SING STREET which help differentiate it from the other films. Apart from just the chosen artistic outlet, the film features a great exploration of romance as Conor attempts to woo Raphina. It’s portrayed realistically, and Conor isn’t treated as completely inept as these types of films sometimes present when faced with a guy who is probably over-reaching romantically. The power behind what happens when a guy writes a song for a girl he fancies is explored, but not just in the “you’re beautiful” kind of way, and it really helps show how a connection can form between them.
The other strong connection in this film is between Conor and the two guys who help him become a good singer/songwriter. His bandmate, Eamon (Mark McKenna), the rabbit-loving virtuoso who helps put the melody to Conor’s thoughts and words, gives a lot of heart to the band and makes you understand that it’s not just a hobby, it’s a second family. The boys really seem to both get a catharsis while working together, and it’s captured excellently by writer / director John Carney (who also did great work with BEGIN AGAIN, another film about musicians).
In addition to his brother-in-songwriting, Conor also wouldn’t advance so far into the world of expression through music without his actual brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor). The first third of the film, Brendan seemed like a one-note character, but in the majority of the film to follow, he evolved into a fairly complex character whose love for his younger brother was evident, and the support he showed, big and small, was touching in light of revelations late in the film. SING STREET truly wouldn’t have been as great without this relationship helping guide things along, and it hits powerfully in the final scenes of the film, the metaphor in the closing moments especially.
SING STREET was truly uplifting, hopeful and wonderfully layered. Writer / director John Carney is going to make you wish you were in a band in high school and had the sort of creative outlet he gives Conor. You’ll wish you had a muse like Raphina and a brother like Brendan. The triumphs are heart-warming, the songs and styles are enjoyable for anyone who likes good 80s music, and the presentation is excellent.
My rating: 93 out of 100