‘Sing Street’ Review: The Next Great Musical From the Director of ‘Once’
Is it OK to jump out of your seat and the end of the movie and pump your fist with excitement like it’s the end of an epic, transcendent rock concert? Because that’s what I wanted to do at the end of Sing Street, the latest romance musical film from John Carney (Once), whose sheer joy and enthusiasm is so infectious it’s very hard to not clap, cry and, yeah, jump out of your seat.
Newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays Conor, a 14-year-old Irish kid in 1985 whose plucked out of his private school to attend the nearby Synge Street school when his parents need to save money. With fights in the yard, bullying skinheads and abstract rules from a strict headmaster, the new school feels like a prison, but it offers one benefit: it’s across the street from a boarding house for girls, where one day Conor sees the beautiful Raphina (Lucy Boynton) on the front stoop. She’s a perfectly accessorized 80s dream with impeccable makeup, jewelry and hair. He wants to approach her, but has no idea how until he gets up enough courage to ask her to appear in the music video for his band. Only problem: there is no band.
But, Conor is smitten and, with his new pal and makeshift “band manager” Darren, sets out to find any kids at his school who know how to play instruments to cobble together a “futurist” band. They rehearse and with Eamon, the Lennon to his McCartney, they write their first song, “Riddle of a Model,” a pseudo Duran Duran ripoff. Sure enough, Raphina shows up to film her part in the music video and even provides the boys some help with their mod makeup. It doesn’t take long for Conor and Raphina to fall in love, despite her older, lamer boyfriend and their plans to move to London. Will she leave? Will the band break up? Will you ever get “Drive It Like You Stole It” out of your head?
Like Once before it, Sing Street is a musical that uses songs as a natural part of the film and considering Conor is writing songs about everything happening around him — the asshole Chaplain, his parents impending divorce and his burgeoning feelings for Phina — it works almost perfectly driving the film forward. It doesn’t hurt that the original soundtrack (plus classics from the likes of Joe Jackson, Hall & Oates and The Cure) is earworm-level catchy that will leave you humming the whole way home.
The majority of the cast, minus Game of Thrones star Aiden Gillen and Transformers: Age of Extinction star Jack Reynor, will be relatively unknown to American audiences, but they’re all uniformly great. Perhaps because she’s the only girl and has more of an emotional arc than Conor, Boynton stands out as Raphina, the aspiring model with the dead father and bipolar mother. Raphina may exude a certain confidence to the boys, but when we see her back in her room, slowly stripping down the makeup she’s been hiding behind, Boynton brings a quiet vulnerability to the role.
Equally as dynamic as Conor’s budding romance with Raphina is his relationship to his brother Brendan (Reynor), an Irish Seth Rogen-type stoner, who’s helps his younger brother navigate the treacherous waters of love and music, serving as the inspiration for Conor to start a new life. If the film is a love story, it may prove to be both about platonic love and familial love as a title card at the end notes the film is dedicated to all the brothers out there.
Sing Street is a sticky sweet rock ‘n roll coming-of-age 80s nostalgia teen romance fairy tale that will have you tapping your toes, dabbing your eyes and calling for an encore. Go ahead, stand up and cheer. You won’t have a better time at the movies this year.