When it comes to countries that are at the forefront of cinematic achievement, Ireland isn’t one that comes to mind. But last year an independent musical-comedy, set and filmed in Dublin, was able to garner international recognition – a rarity for the small-yet-proud nation. It’s a movie which is very easy to adore, not least because of its love of British Pop.
Ireland experienced a severe economic downturn during the mid-Eighties, the effects of which were felt by much of the population. The Lalor family is not immune to theses troubles, having to move their youngest son Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) from his private school to the nearby public school, Synge Street. As a consequence of his “posh” schooling, Conor struggles to fit in, but does manage to befriend Darren (Ben Carolan) who sees himself as something of an entrepreneur.
Across the road from Synge Street sits an attractive teenager named Raphina (Lucy Boynton), who Conor introduces himself to. Upon hearing that Raphina is an aspiring model, Conor asks her to appear in the music video of his band. The only problem is, Conor isn’t actually in a band, and he’ll need to create one in order to win Raphina’s affections. To alleviate this problem, Conor and Darren go about recruiting their classmates, beginning with music guru Eamon (Mark McKenna).
Making up the rest of the band is keyboardist Ngig (Percy Chamburuka), drummer Garry (Karl Rice) and bassist Larry (Conor Hamilton), with Conor himself performing vocals. The boys name their newly-founded band Sing Street, after their local school, and begin their musical journey by performing covers of the latest British New Wave hits. But with encouragement from his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), Conor begins writing original material for the band.
Said material includes some of the most upbeat, catchy numbers put to film in recent years. Composed by the movie’s director John Carney, the music is very much influenced by, and a tribute to, the British New-Wave bands of the time, such as Duran Duran and The Cure. The adoration Sing Street holds for this period is so infectious that one cannot help but love it too – even the nowadays-unflattering attire that the band wears (as witnessed below) has its charms.
Also worthy of praise is the young cast of actors, many of whom are making their feature film debuts. Each band member is likeable and gives it their all, but unfortunately, they aren’t given enough screen-time to demonstrate what they are truly capable of. Most of that time is taken up by the two leads, Walsh-Peelo and Boynton, who give wonderful performances and have pretty good chemistry, and that’s exactly what audiences want to see in a movie like this.
What they don’t want to see is the clichés and stereotypes associated with the coming-of-age genre. In a film filled with original music and vibrant costuming, it’s sad to see the film-makers succumb to the same tired tropes – the introverted protagonist, the quirky love-interest, the bully figure at school and the troubled marriage are those that are most noticeable. That doesn’t make the picture less enjoyable, but it does make for some unwelcome distractions.
Nevertheless, Sing Street deserves recognition for what it truly is, and that’s a heartfelt appreciation of the Eighties music scene. The wonderful soundtrack is what makes the movie, complimented by the fantastic acting of its young stars.