Irish film has always had an intricate relationship with music. From The Commitments, to Once, to even Finbar Furey popping up to sing a song in Irish-flavoured Gangs of New York. John Carney, director of Once, returns here with Sing Street, an Irish-music mash of a movie. If there wasn’t such nostalgia for The Commitments, Sing Street could well be the best of the bunch.
It’s Dublin in the 80’s. When his family make cutbacks, 15-year-old Conor finds his middle-class existence shattered as he is thrown into the lion’s den that is the Christian Brothers. Berated and beaten by bullies and priests alike, Conor takes solace in watching Top of the Pops every night, just as music videos become a huge phenomenon. So, in order to impress pretty-girl Raphina, he asks her to be an actress in his band’s music video. She agrees.
Only… Conor doesn’t have a band. Problem? What problem?
With music acting an escape from the harshness of the world, Conor gathers his rag-tag team of misfits and begins to make music. Under the tutelage of his older brother, Conor throws himself fully into the pop world, donning the styles of his favourite artists, from Tony Hadley to The Cure.
The ads for Sing Street have declared it ‘infectious’ and ‘feel-good’, both descriptions usually indicating an intolerable sickly-sweet watch. However, infectious is an incredibly fitting word for Sing Street. Even if you go into this film with a willingness to hate it, you will probably love it by the end. Even when Jack Reynor (as the older brother) appears and speaks through his nose, you will end up loving him by the time the credits roll. Even the unadulterated optimism of Conor could be seen as insufferable, but you will soon see it as commendable and, to use that dirty word, infectious.
Carney directs with a loose vitality, and unlike the €100k Once, Sing Street looks and sounds and feels like a movie of Hollywood standard, while never sacrificing its Irish vibe. (I personally will never get sick of seeing Dublin up on screen, especially when it is captured this well.) Carney’s Ireland is a joy, never indulging in that ugly fetishization of the Dublin underclass or the religious rural areas. Obviously, Sing Street is in some way autobiographical, and that’s what gives it a real edge, what makes it stand out from the dirge of Irish cinema.
Hopefully, people will see it, so that Carney can once again showcase his abilities. The biggest compliment anyone can pay a film is that they hope it never ends. With Sing Street, I genuinely wish that it follows This is England and starts having check-in mini-series.
Sing Street ’86, anyone?