tue 22/10/2019

Sing Street | reviews, news & interviews

Sing Street

Sing Street

Dublin high school musical romcom is almost too winsome

Sing Street: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and his motley crew

He did it Once. He did it with Begin Again. Sing Street is Irish writer and director John Carney’s third hymn to music’s inspiring power for his characters to find themselves. Almost too cute for its own good, it’s targeted at the feel-good market with the precision of one of those cruise missiles that can navigate up a jihadi’s u-bend. If you don’t see it on a date, you might just as easily watch it with children, grandparents, or your long-lost step-sister from Patagonia. Perhaps only the soundtrack, a slick dovetailing of originals and some of the 1980s’ more stylish tunes from Duran Duran, The Cure, and others, keeps it the right side of mawkish.   

Conor, a mild schoolboy from a mildly troubled family, arrives at a mildly boisterous school, after his father’s architecture practice fails. He is persecuted about infringements of the dress code by the nit-picking headmaster Brother Baxter, and picked on in more traditional fashion by school bully Barry (though it’s hinted both men suffer the same kind of sexual repression, in what's perhaps a rather sweeping diagnosis of the psychosis of oppression). He quickly finds his feet, and, spotting the beautiful and intriguing Raphina across the road from school one day, sets about assembling a band from a happily diverse cross-section of the school community in order to woo her.

He is then instructed in the necessities of risk-taking in rock by older brother, and encyclopaedic vinyl buyer, Brendan, and no sooner has the band finished crashing through their first covers than they’re writing their own, quite passable, indie songs. The rehearsal scenes are some of the film’s most enjoyable. Carney, formerly a bassist with The Frames, is at his most closely observed and plausible here, and the humour and human drama are very well matched.  

Sing Street tips its hat rather flippantly at its characters’ troubles

Conor, played by new discovery Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, has to develop very rapidly from a winsome yet wet-behind-the-ears school newbie to a romantic lead, seemingly growing by five years in what feels like as many minutes. He only just makes it work. Older brother Brendan (a potent Jack Reynor) and troubled lover Raphina (Lucy Boynton) both project a more carnal charisma. Even the rabbit-fancying multi-instrumentalist Eamon (Mark McKenna) has more of the trappings of edgy rockstardom.  

The shadow of the Angela’s Ashes misery genre has lurked over Irish historical drama for some time, yet if anything Sing Street tips its hat rather flippantly at its characters’ troubles. There’s depression, addiction and domestic abuse, but we never really get under the skin of the victims. The revelation of what’s holding Brendan back at home, while he sends Conor away on his adventures, is clever, but can’t help feeling a little too convenient, more a turning point on his character arc than a deeply realised piece of psychology.

The moment when Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley), toothbrush moustache lasciviously a-twitch, invites Conor into his private bathroom seems to be taking the film somewhere else entirely, yet by the time Conor – now Cosmo – leads his band on stage at the school prom, Baxter’s threat is completely neutered, and he’s largely a figure of fun. (The whole idea of a Christian Brothers’ school prom stretches credulity, yet Carney himself attended a Christian Brothers school, Synge Street, in Dublin – no prizes – so is presumably well placed to comment.)  

The ending will divide opinion, and – after Carney again hints at trouble, this time Titantic-style – the young lovers seem destined (although it’s left slightly open) to achieve their dream. The manner in which they do so is decidedly odd, however, and tips the tone, which has remained just the right side of believable, firmly into fantasy land. I certainly wouldn’t attempt what Conor and Raphina set out to do in such a tiny fishing boat.

Carney seems to be viewing his imagined world with both sepia and rose tints, yet the result is still, with sufficient suspension of disbelief, sweetly enjoyable. Ken Loach and the Dardennes Brothers will have little to fear come the next awards season, but an audience looking for good songs and broad-brush romance won’t let that spoil their fun.

@matthewwrighter

Ken Loach and the Dardennes Brothers will have little to fear come the next awards season

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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