Shy Dublin teenager Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) feels like an outsider after his parents’ money woes force him to transfer to a new, rough-and-tumble school. One day, he spots the trendy Raphina (Lucy Boynton), and, unable to think of a reason to talk to her, asks her to star in the first music video for his band. She agrees, which puts Conor in a bind since said band does not yet exist. Together with his friend Darren (Ben Carolan), he starts a glam-rock-inspired outfit as he falls deeper in love with the enigmatic Raphina.
I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time and now it has finally arrived in Ottawa so I can see it. I’m a big fan of coming-of-age films and the fact that it is also a musical film definitely makes it different. I admit that I did not know a single thing about it or even who was in but I did know a little about the music so my expectations going in were not very high and I was probably better off that way. I am also familiar with the film’s director, John Carney, and his other musical films, Once and Begin Again, but I haven’t seen them so this will be my first experience.
This film takes place in the mid-1980s and does a great job at establishing this very early on having its own distinctive style from the locales, the wardrobe, and the soundtrack. It all felt very immersive, making you a feel like a part of everything. The film also sets the rest of the scene early on with Conor (Walsh-Peelo), his brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), and his parents Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and Robert (Aiden Gillen). The family is having a hard time financially and Penny and Robert have problems of their own. Conor and his family are now poor and have to make sacrifices in order to survive. You never really got a sense of that here making the whole story a little unrealistic but it wouldn’t have been as practical if it was.
One of those sacrifices involved sending Conor to a lesser, Catholic school. This is where the story really starts since this is where Conor meets his friends with whom he will start his own band, also called Sing Street. The camaraderie shown here between the friends/bandmates was fun to watch as the chemistry between all of the actors here was great. Since they couldn’t focus on everyone, they chose to focus on the wise-cracking manager/cameraman Darren (Carolan) and bandmate Eamon (Mark McKenna). The whole song process from writing to performing and everything in between was both compelling and exciting to watch. A lot of these songs were inspired by Conor’s own life experiences. He would use music as an escape from what was happening in his life. This was most evident in a scene where Conor would just play louder in order to muffle the noise of his parents arguing.
The performances by the actual actors of the film were great and the songs also written by Carney were great (and actually stuff I would listen to). Some were inspired by the biggest bands at the time such as Duran Duran and The Cure. The film also added a nice touch making the band often dress up as whatever band inspired them at the time. If you would like to listen to the soundtrack, it is available below (It is a Spotify playlist. If it doesn’t work, let me know in the comments).
As much as this film is about the band, it is also about the relationship between Conor and Brendan. This relationship was a driving force for Conor, with Brendan inspiring him and motivating him to finally become the person he wanted to be. While Brendan may look like a slacker/stoner caricature, there was much more to him than that. His character had a surprising amount of depth to him. He used to have his own life with dreams of his own but at some point lost his way. His failed dreams may have been similar to Conor’s but he is still supportive, almost living vicariously through him. Proving that he’s still human, he still has some frustration and possibly resentment as he witnesses his brother’s success and also doesn’t want to be forgotten. Brendan was just a great character overall, providing some comic relief while still bringing some dramatic moments as well. This really spoke to Reynor’s range, excelling at both while also making Brendan likeable and having you empathize with his plight.
Reynor was great but Walsh-Peelo is the real star here. Conor was just a great character who was just fun to watch here. It would be easy to find yourself relating to his struggles with his personal life, school, and with forming and furthering his band. Since Conor was so likable, it is easy to find yourself invested in him and his journey. Walsh-Peelo, as well as the other actors, were great at the many performances. He had a great voice with an impressive range but that’s what happens when you’re a trained opera singer and a musician. The film also gave him a love interest in the form of a girl named Raphina (Boynton). She was good here with the two making a worthy couple but their relationship would have had more of an impact if her character was little more developed.
Overall, this was a great gem of a film featuring a great story and memorable musical moments and performances by Walsh-Peelo and Reynor.