Jonathan Rich writes for BleedingCool.com…
Every year the multiplexes are filled to capacity with big budget blockbusters, dramatizations of gripping true-life stories, kiddie fare and bio-pics, but everyonce in a while an odd little film comes along that defies genre to just makes you smile.
For 2016 so far, that film is Sing Street.
Sing Street is both a musical, coming-of-age tale and a memoir of the 1985 UK new wave music scene. If, for some reason, you don't have fond memories of Duran Duran, the Clash, Squeeze, the Cure, Spandau Ballet, and Joe Jackson, then this tale of lower class teens both embracing and emulating the sounds of early alternative pop music is an excellent way to make them.
The story starts with gawky teen Cosmo (Ferida Walsh-Peedo) feeling out of place at his new Dublin catholic school because his family doesn't have enough money to buy the required black dress shoes. After inadvertently clashing with oppressive headmaster Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley), the boy's attention quickly turns to the enigmatic pop princess and self-proclaimed model Raphina (Lucy Boynton) smoking cigarettes across the street. To win her attention, Cosmo decides to form a rock band with his classmates and invites Penny to be the star attraction in their videos for songs he has yet to actually compose. The rest of the movie charts the rise and fall of their band Sing Street as it mutates through various stylistic incarnations to play a big show at the school dance.
Children performing in films can rapidly become trite and annoying, but that never happens here. Despite their minor ages, the principles are able to elicit pathos and genuine emotions for their characters without every seeming hackneyed. Whether they are timidly avoiding the school bully, courageously vying for individuality against the conformity of their school setting, composing tunes to woo the pretty girl or directly comforting the working class reality of their dysfunctional families imposed by 1985 Dublin, it all comes across as genuine and even heartwarming. The whole thing seems like a teen version of 1991's The Commitments, but with lower stakes, yet the same amount of heart.
The real star of Sing Street, however, is the music. While the film starts in the middle of the decade and progresses quickly through a year of sonic diversity, the soundtrack provides snippets of some of the best sounds of that era. The original songs performed by the teens could easily have waned into School of Rock territory, where the subject is vapid teen angst and classroom complaining, but these are performed with such conviction and panache, that never occurs. Even if the changing retro clothes and hairstyles may seem a little forced in the cramped story's timeline, the participants embrace them so eagerly as they search for identity, it always seems believable. A notable omission is the music of U2, especially odd given that Bono and the Edge were involved in the production, but perhaps the inclusion of Dublin's favorite sons on screen or via songs would have overshadowed the development of the fictional band's rise to grade-school glory.
Perhaps the best part of Sing Street is how the finale is handled. Both the romantic subplot and the ascendance of the band converge to a crescendo at the big school dance, and the story could have easily ended there with a classic 80s freeze frame of triumph ala Purple Rain, but the story instead goes on to offer a sweet open resolution for the characters.
If you want to hear some classic UK 80s music and distract yourself with a sweet story about love and the love of music, take yourself down to Sing Street and take a musical journey which will leave you with a goofy smile on your face.
Directed by John Carney
Starring Ferida Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, and Don Wycherley
149 minutes, Rated PG for strong language and some bullying, drug material and teen smoking.
Jonathan Rich is a freelance journalist, high school educator, and self-professed comic book nerd working in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. He writes about entertainment and pop culture for various print and web publications, including bleedingcool.com.