Sing Street full movie review - An absolutely brilliant coming of age film which is at turns hilarious, life-affirming and thought-provoking
Taking place in Dublin in 1985, this is an absolutely brilliant coming of age film which is at turns hilarious, life-affirming and thought-provoking.
It has a superb script by John Carney which hits all of the right notes and his direction is certainly up to the task. The film has an excellent soundtrack featuring various styles of music from the period such as the Cure, the Clash, A-ha, Duran Duran, the Jam, Spandau Ballet and Joe Jackson as well as original compositions written by Carney, Gary Clark, Glen Hansard and others. However, in spite of the fact that it was likewise written for the film, "Go Now" by Adam Levine seemed like a somewhat awkward fit as it sounded more 2010s than 1980s. The film paints a convincing portrait of dysfunctional families, some of which are considerably more dysfunctional than others. It perfectly captures the essence of 1980s Ireland, which was not exactly a land of opportunity. Actually, Ireland has never been a land of opportunity.
The film stars Ferdia Walsh-Peelo in a very good performance as Conor Lalor, a 15-year-old boy who is pulled out of his posh, fee paying Jesuit run school (presumably either Belvedere or Gonzaga) and forced to attend the rough innercity school Synge Street CBS due to the fact that his family is having serious financial problems. Walsh-Peelo is very impressive in his first film role, let alone his first leading role, but he is an even better musician. Incidentally, his elder brother Tadhg was in my year in law at UCD. I don't recall ever actually speaking to him but he always seemed like a nice guy. As Conor's parents Robert and Penny's marriage is rapidly deteriorating, his home life is far from ideal. He finds comfort in his love of music. Considering that his new school has a very different atmosphere from his old one, it is not a smooth transition. In his first week, he is targeted by both the school bully Barry Bray and the sadistic headmaster Brother Baxter, who objects to the fact that he is wearing brown shoes in contravention of the strict black shoe policy. After he meets a 16-year-old model named Raphina, Conor tells her that he just so happens to be looking for a model to be in his band's first music video. The only problem is that he does not really have a band. Thankfully, Conor has made his first friend at the school in the form of a budding entrepreneur named Darren Mulvey, who agrees to manage the band and introduces him to the eccentric rabbit enthusiast Eamon who can reportedly "play every instrument known to mankind."
Lucy Boynton is extremely strong as Raphina, a seemingly strong, confident girl who uses her air of mystery and sophistication to mask her vulnerability and inner pain. The band's first original song "The Riddle of the Model" concerns the perception that people become less interesting the more that you learn about them as anything is initially possible (at least in your head). However, Raphina becomes more and more interesting as we learn more about her. She is without a doubt the film's strongest and most memorable character. Raphina dreams of moving to London to start her career as a model, in large part because she desperately wants to escape her often traumatic life in Ireland. Her mother is a manic depressive who is in and out of hospital while her father, a drunkard, was killed in a car accident a few years earlier. In the film's most heart-breaking, gut-wrenching moment, Raphina tells Conor ? albeit not in so many words ? that her father sexually abused her. As a result, he gains a new insight into not only Raphina but his own situation as he realises that his home life is nowhere near as bad as it could be. In comparison to many other teen films, Conor and Raphina's relationship is unusual in that it never goes beyond kissing. In that sense, it is very pure and sweet and, as such, it serves as an effective contrast to Raphina's serious personal problems. I think that Conor means so much to Raphina in part because he is one of the few people in her life who has not taken advantage of her, one way or another.
Conor's extremely close relationship with his elder brother Brendan, played very well by Jack Reynor, is just as important to the storyline as his relationship with Raphina. Brendan offers a great deal of valuable advice on both musical and romantic matters. A college dropout, he initially appears to be the stereotypical Generation X stoner and pop philosopher but Carney expertly deconstructs the stereotype by revealing that he regrets his wasted potential. As much as he loves Conor, he is clearly envious of him to some degree as he is the golden boy in the family but he eventually gets over it. Ben Carolan is an absolute laugh riot as Darren, who gets all of the funniest lines and delivers them impeccably. There is an inspired comic moment when he suggests getting Ngig, the school's sole black student, to join the band for the sole reason that it would look cool to have a black guy in the line-up. Mark McKenna is very good as Eamon, Conor's writing partner who becomes his best friend. Aidan Gillen, the best known actor in the film in or out of Ireland, and Maria Doyle Kennedy are excellent as Conor's parents Robert and Penny. The same is true of Don Wycherly as the film's main antagonist Brother Baxter, who physically assaults Conor in a very powerful scene. Ian Kenny is perfectly cast as Barry who, like Raphina, Brendan and Penny, is a far more complicated character than he appears at first glance.
Overall, this is an excellent film which is just as effective in its character development as in its treatment of music.