Films and music exist to accomplish nearly identical ambitions. Both forms of art demand a deep understanding between the creator and their audience in order to successfully convey themes and elicit desired emotions. They each have an otherwise unparalleled ability to truly move a person, to bring them to tears, to change their outlook on life, for better or for worse. However, despite their common goals, they exist in vastly different mediums and require skills of discrete natures. Few truly understand and excel at both, but writer and director John Carney is one of these people, and Sing Street is undeniable proof of his immense talent.
The film follows a music-loving teen named Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) as he comes of age in 1980’s Ireland, a country that has fallen into a period of struggle in both its economy and its national identity. Conor’s constantly-arguing parents (Aiden Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) can no longer afford his schooling and are forced to send him to a free public school, Synge Street, which exposes him to ruthless bullying from his peers and unprecedentedly strict rules from the faculty. Just as life seems to be about as difficult as it can be, Conor finds a silver lining in the form of a beautiful and complex girl, Raphina (Lucy Boynton). In the hopes of impressing her and with the guidance of his elder brother, Brendan (the scene-stealing Jack Reynor), Conor decides to form a band with a few of his new classmates. Their name? Sing Street.
As Conor develops as a musician and entertainingly experiments with the looks and hairdos of the time, his music takes on far greater meaning to his world. It becomes about the time-honored virtue of “sticking it to the man” by rebelling against his oppressive principal. It reflects his and his nation’s search for identity through hope – as countless forlorn individuals in Conor’s native Dublin gaze longingly across the Irish Sea toward Britain in desire of a better life, Conor wants nothing more than for his music to take him and Raphina to a world of content, one in which they may truly belong and find happiness. The film perfectly balances such universal and heavy themes with boundless charm and humor, but by far its most pleasing asset is its many fantastic original songs.
That’s right, Carney not only wrote and directed the film, but he also co-wrote a collection of fittingly retro and undeniably memorable tunes for the titular band which will undoubtedly find their way into the Oscars as well as the audience’s heart. Synth-heavy and lovelorn, the songs reflect not only Conor’s immediate issues, but also flawlessly encapsulate the time and the angst, joy, and love that defined it. This is where Carney displays his tremendous and rare skill at connecting music with film. Drawing upon his own experiences as a musician, he is able to recreate the thrilling yet anxious experience of throwing oneself into the competitive industry with wide-eyed hope. Carney’s attempts would be fruitless, however, if it weren’t for the performances of his central characters, whose banter, so cleverly written by Carney, appear seamless and genuine through the endearing and authentic performers.
Although its premise may seem a bit familiar, Sing Street is a film which is so expertly constructed and so filled with delight that it is impossible not to love. Its protagonist’s journey follows an enthralling path containing an intricate and believable romance, and the way in which his story progresses puts the vast majority of coming of age tales to absolute shame. Despite being filled at times with heartache, its message is one of such optimism that the result is the rare film which leaves one reflecting on their life as it cuts to black, giving them true hope that anything is possible and conveying that life is best spent taking risks and pursuing happiness. Sing Street is a film that knows the power and beauty of music, but more importantly, one which understands the importance of dreams and is able to share its knowledge of life in a unique way that is simultaneously joyous and poignant. In fact, it is the best film of the year thus far, and has all the makings of a cherished classic.
5 out of 5