Sing Street Review

Posted: August 12, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

sing streetWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

In 2014, a low key music film from John Carney slipped under my radar in theaters despite generally being really well-liked by most everyone that saw it. That film was Begin Again, and when I finally caught up with it at home I too was quite charmed. The film was maybe a little too minimal to really leave an impact or make my top ten list by year’s end, but it was a highly enjoyable film that I wish I would have been able to catch in theaters. I bring all this up because almost the exact same thing happened this year with John Carney’s newest music film Sing Street. Like Begin Again, I was totally oblivious to the film when it was released theatrically and only got a sense of what it was and how much it was loved after its theatrical run has finished. This isn’t quite the same as my experience with Begin Again though as my reaction to Sing Street is a lot more neutral.

Sing Street is set in 1985 in Dublin and follows Connor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), the youngest son in a struggling Irish family. As the film opens, Connor is being pulled out of his expensive private school and sent to a public school. Connor quickly meets Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a slightly older girl who lives at the girl’s home across the street from Connor’s school. To impress her, Connor says he is in a band and asks if she’d be interested in starring in one of their music videos. Shockingly, she agrees and so Connor most throw together a band. However the impromptu group he assembles, which come to call themselves Sing Street, turns out to be pretty good and actually start becoming pretty successful as Connor and Raphina grow closer.

As with Carney’s previous efforts, Sing Street has a strong soundtrack of both source music and original songs. As far as pre-existing stuff goes, the film features Motorhead, Duran Duran, The Cure, Hall and Oates, and Joe Jackson, just to name a few. However the real focus of the soundtrack is the original music performed by Sing Street, written by Carney and Gary Clark. Most of these songs are a lot of fun, have a good energy, and are generally quite catchy. The songs are so good in fact that it actually becomes something of a problem. This is a band that was haphazardly thrown together by a kid with little experience who just wanted to impress a girl. Yet from the get go, the group seems to have a decently polished sound and well-written songs. I suppose that’s possible, but it doesn’t make for a very interesting story. We never see Sing Street struggle to find their sound or improve their craft and as such there is very little drama. Most of the conflict in the story comes from the fighting between Connor’s parents and the dominating school principal, but they seem more in the periphery than in the forefront of the story.

Perhaps I wouldn’t be so hard on Sing Street if this wasn’t Carney’s third time making this kind of film. Like Once and Begin Again, Sing Street is all about musicians embracing their talents, following their dreams, and making art. That’s a fine topic to tell stories about, Carney’s films have been becoming increasingly simplistic and naïve. Once and Begin Again at least explored elements of failure. They were able to show their characters at low points professionally and personally and also got to explore their self-doubt. This conflict allowed for growth and made it all the more satisfying when those protagonists found success. With Sing Street there’s no sense of failure or low points and as such nothing feels earned. Everything just seems to go right for these guys and the film as a whole just reeks of wish fulfillment.

I don’t want to come off like I hated Sing Street because that certainly isn’t the case. Carney’s love for music and its creation remains as infectious as ever and the film is also edited with a lot of energy. Carney also does a good job recreating setting and the cast is pretty fun too. From moment to moment, the film is fun to watch and I certainly get why it’s inspired such a passionate response in so many. However I can’t shake the feeling that not only is Carney treading water, but is in fact regressing as a filmmaker. He isn’t challenging himself at all here and in fact seems to be dumbing down his material. There’s fun to be had in Sing Street, but Carney has made this sort of thing a lot better twice previously.

C

Comments
  1. Damien Riley says:

    Nice review. You alluded to the strong 80’s theme when you listed the song. There is a daydream sequence resembling Back to the Future’s prom performance at the end. That’s one that really sticks out. There are also deep statements by the older brother about 80s music and band image stuff. These should be considered in a review of this film because it’s more a slice in time of the optimism and awkwardness of the decade than a realistic film about teens in a band. Having been in a band myself in the 80’s, I quickly identified with memories of setting up amps in our families’ living rooms and meeting up after girl troubles to write songs. I never expected the musical production of ‘Sing Street’ to be realistic or in real time. For me, this was a fun movie with some great original music. I thought it towered above ‘Once’ and ‘Begin Again.’ While I do appreciate your review, how can you be neutral? ;)

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