Sing Street (John Carney, 2016)
Even though Sing Street – the latest musical confection from John Carney (Once, Begin Again) – may not ultimately be a particularly good movie, for a while it is quite uniquely engaging. Set in Dublin in 1985, the film follows the (mis)adventures of 15-year-old Conor, the youngest son of a clan in crisis, where the once-successful parents are now short of cash and at each other’s throats. Older brother Brendan may a layabout college-dropout stoner (there’s a sister, too, but her part is so underwritten that we wonder what she’s even doing here), but Conor shows some promise. The only problem is that there’s no more money for his posh private academy, and so it’s off to the free state-run Christian Brothers’ Synge Street school for Conor. On day one, he’s forced to take off his non-regulation brown shoes (black is the only color permitted) and walk around in his socks by the strict Catholic-priest principal. And then there are the working-class bullies who see him as an easy target.
But all is not bleak. A maiden fair sits on a stoop across the way, and her beauty motivates Conor – soon re-dubbed Cosm0 – to form a band to entice her to act in its music videos. These are the 1980s, after all, and the dawn of MTV, as well as of the British New Wave, including such then-hip bands like Duran Duran, a major obsession of our heroes. Before long, Cosmo and his new Synge-Street mates are dyeing their hair and dressing in frock coats as they stage a series of hilarious riffs on the music of the day. They call themselves “Sing Street,” appropriating the name of the school they hate and lending it a more personal meaning.
As fun and clever as the first half may be, by the end the story runs out of steam, unsure of how to resolve some impossible plot threads other than in the most improbable way. The music, too, descends into banality, leaving the purposeful (and brilliantly spoofed) clichés behind for generically unironic chords. This was a weakness of both Once and Begin Again, as well, but the opening of Sing Street is so promising that it’s a real shame this time around. Still, for all that, the strength of the early scenes – particularly between newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, as Conor/Cosmo, and Jack Reynor (Malcolm in the most recent Macbeth) as Brendan, and Walsh-Peelo and Lucy Boynton (The Blackcoat’s Daughter) as Raphina, the object of his affection – propel the film along until the energy finally dissipates. Before the narrative song is played out, however, its harmonies resonate most agreeably.