Few (if any) of us were who we wanted to be when we were in high school. While high school girls often think they're not pretty enough or popular enough, boys fear they're not cool enough or tough enough. Of course, these are only a few of the characteristics that teens in high school – both boys and girls believe they lack. The point is, during adolescence, all kids think that they're not "enough"
of something. Well, I say "enough already" – and so does Irish writer-director John Carney, through his music-oriented comedy-drama "Sing Street" (PG-13, 1:46). This is a film that shows us it's okay to be insecure and sad sometimes, but you can also learn to be happy during those times and even to rise above them. "Happy-Sad" the film calls it. I call the film insightful, encouraging and entertaining.
Conor Lalor (Ferdia Walsh Peelo) is, in many ways, a typical 15-year-old. He goes to school, where he has both friends and enemies. He has family members who love him, but also add challenges to his life. And, of course, he wants to earn the affections of someone special who has caught his eye. The details of the framework of Conor's life may differ from yours (as well as his gender, interests, location and even time period), but he should be easy to relate to – for anyone who attended (or is now attending) high school.
As for Conor, he lives in Dublin, Ireland in 1985. He has a brother (six years older) named Brendan (Jack Raynor), who is out of school but still lives at home, and a younger sister named Ann (Kelly Thornton). Their parents (Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) argue – loudly – about money, their kids, their marriage, etc. Conor has the experience of changing schools, starting at Synge Street Christian Brothers School, where, as the new kid, he quickly runs afoul of the principal (Don Wycherly) and the school bully (Ian Kelly). However, Conor soon makes a friend named Darren (Ben Carolan) and is quite taken by a mysterious girl named Raphina (Lucy Boynton) who lives across the street from the school.
As a way of getting to know Raphina, Conor asks her to be in a music video for his band. She agrees, so now all Conor has to do is
start a band! He gets Darren to be the band's manager – slash – music video producer. Darren introduces Conor to Eamon (Mark McKenna), who is skilled at a variety of instruments. After the guys recruit from among their school mates, adding friends Larry (Conor Hamilton) and Gary (Karl Rice), along with Ngig (Percy Chamburuka), the only black kid at Synge Street CBS, they choose "Sing Street" as the name of their band, and start working on their band's musical and visual identity.
Heavily influenced by early-mid 1980s acts like The Cure, Joe Jackson and Hall & Oates (whose songs appear in the soundtrack), Sing Street works up a cover of Duran Duran's "Rio" and then Conor and Eamon start writing original songs together. Brendan makes use of his misspent youth to school his younger brother in the finer points of modern music and encourages Conor to stretch musically. Soon, Raphina becomes Conor's muse and a regular in Sing Street's videos. Raphina and Conor also grow closer, in spite of her "it's complicated" relationship status and her plan to move to London to model.
"Sing Street" features a whole lot of talent – on both sides of the camera – and the microphone. Carney's direction and his script are sensitive, engaging and fun. The story has a lot going on, but still keeps things simple, and derives its entertainment value from a variety of sources. The drama comes from following the development of the band, the relationship between Conor and Raphina, the relationships within Conor's house and Conor's problems at school. The comedy comes from the behavior of the film's colorful characters and the natural awkwardness of teenagers discovering life.
Carney says the film is "wish fulfillment of all of the things I wanted when I was the age of the character and didn't do." To portray a fictionalized version of his own adolescence, he cast unknown, but talented actors – with terrific results. Raynor creates an interesting and passionate character, who is dealing with the fear that life is passing him by. For their part, Walsh-Peelo and McKenna, besides being fine young actors, are talented musicians in real life – all the better to perform the film's excellent original songs.
As the main character, Conor's struggles are relatable, his dreams are understandable and his story is enjoyable. The film isn't completely original or realistic, but it's very effective as a representation of the trials, tribulations and potential triumphs of the teenage years, and offers hope as to what could lie ahead – for those who make the most of those years – and the lessons they produce. "You can never do anything by half," is one character's heart-felt proclamation. "Sing Street" continually speaks to the heart – through its comedy, its drama and its wonderful music – and doesn't do it by half. "A-"
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