By Joshua Marrow (Manchester, England)
With what became one of the most loved films of 2016, John Carney’s musical, Sing Street, tells the story of 15-year-old Conor Lawlor, and his journey through family rifts, adolescent love and how music can shape his life.
The lack of economic prosperity in 1985’s Dublin see’s Conor Lawlor’s (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) family having to make several sacrifices for financial security, one of which is taking 15-year-old Conor out of private school, and into a local state school, much to Conor’s dismay. After the first few days of struggling to fit in with both the other pupils, teachers and the school’s ethos, a silver lining in the shape of Raphina (Lucy Boynton) enters Conor’s world. In the midst of his infatuation during their first encounter, he tells the aspiring model he may need her for his band’s music video, which promptly tasks Conor with having to form his band and plan the music video in order to impress the object of his affection. With inspiration from his older brother, and his new talented friends, Conor’s band soon gets off the ground writing songs and recording several music videos which brings him and Raphina much closer.
The heart of the story is how Conor navigates his adolescence through music, and the soundtrack heard throughout this film is phenomenal, both utilising original numbers performed by Conor and friends and some of the band’s famous influences. From old vinyl records and appearances of Top of the Pops, we hear some of the 80’s iconic tracks from bands such as The Cure, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran, woven into the film’s original soundtrack. We see the band tackle many music styles encapsulating the zeitgeist of the times as the band experiment and find their sound and their image, which acts as a perfect homage to some of the revolutionary music coming out from the decade, and seeing how these young misfits form their band and navigate through musical styles are some of the most entertaining parts of the film.
There’s a constant theme of masculinity running throughout, which makes for a much deeper sense of intrigue as to what is happening to our main character, Conor. Experimenting with his look and style, wearing makeup and changing his clothes; these changes are challenged by other characters, such as how typical school bully, Barry (Ian Kenny) takes a constant dislike to Conor, or how we see strict catholic school teacher, Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley), deal with his disdain for men in make-up. The film’s main story line questions what masculinity means in it’s typical sense, as ultimately it is the character challenging his masculinity and his identity who is the one seen vying for the affection of our female lead, Raphina.
The band’s development keeps the interest of Raphina who grows ever closer to Conor, who like any 15-year old is unsure of how to act upon his feelings towards his dream girl. He often struggles with how he feels regarding the girl he naturally assumes is out of his league and how he can deal with a girl more complex than she first appears. The films story telling of the romantic relationship between the two main characters is captivating, and you feel the conflict in Conor as to what is more important to him; his band or the reason why he started it. However, Raphina’s screen time doesn’t just act as a vehicle for Conor to ultimately get what he wants, the character herself is struggling with where her life is at, and the film keeps us guessing as to what could happen between the pair, as her life is anything but steady.
We see an honest depiction of what 1980’s Dublin was like in Sing Street, and it’s this difficult economic time which puts particular strain on the Lawlor family. For me the most unexpected but best aspect of this film was the relationship between Conor and his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor). It would have been easy to make the older brother character tease and torment Conor, but we see Brendan’s constant guidance and love for his younger brother which is reciprocated throughout the film. Whether it’s from his musical advice and influence, helping Conor get what he wants or being the filter to explain to his younger brother just what is really happening to his family; the dynamic between these two is yet another reason why this film works so well. Among a host of amazing performances by a young cast, Benyon’s is the one the stands out as the best, with how he conveys the disappointment in how his life is going, and how he doesn’t want to see the same happen to his brother.
My only real concern when watching this movie was that the events during the final act of the film were almost too convenient in our main characters favour, albeit you must suspend your disbelief for films to a certain degree, but the whimsy and romance of the events of the ending could be cast as a little cheesy in parts. However, this by no means takes away from how you connect and route for these characters all the up to the very last second of the film.
Overall this modern day musical is one the best films of 2016, the romance, comedy and sincere pieces of drama kept me truly gripped for the entire film. Its soundtrack will have you both reminiscing and revisiting the old bands we see the young lads take inspiration from, but also the film’s original hits which will be stuck in your head for days on end. I implore anyone who spent their teen years imitating and being inspired by bands, writing music and having absolute adoration for the music of their youth to watch this film and remember what it was like being that kid sat in their bedroom with a guitar and a pen and a blank piece of paper, and wondering how far music can take you.