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Rock & Roll Is A Risk, Especially In Sing Street

Updated on May 21, 2016

Sing Street takes a look at life and music in 1985 Dublin. Life isn't ideal, especially when many Dubliners leave the Irish city with the few things they have and cross the sea to take their chances in London. The Lalor family has its problems, though they have no plans of relocating to England. The parents, Robert (Aidan Gillen) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy), not only struggle to make ends meet, but they have been unfaithful, and their nearly grown children know. With their money troubles, they have to take their youngest son Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) from the private school he attends and enrol him in a state-run Catholic school called Synge Street. Conor wants to be a musician, and gets plenty of musical advice from his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), a college dropout who stays home and gets stoned.

Conor gets off to a rough start at Synge Street. First, Barry (Ian Kenny), the school bully, targets the newcomer for abuse. Next, the principal, Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley), makes Conor remove his shoes, since they are brown instead of the regulation black. He does, however, meet new friends, including Darren (Ben Carolan), a young entrepreneur who has an interest in music, and helps him seek a band. The key addition is Eamon (Mark McKenna), who can play any instrument. They get three other classmates and call themselves Sing Street. When Brendan suggests that Conor write original material, he and Eamon work on that. Following a curious remark from Darren, Conor approaches Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a peer who wants to go to London with her boyfriend and become a model. Darren, who owns video equipment,wants to do a music video, and Conor gets Raphina to agree to it. When Raphina comes, she does makeup for the boys, and starts to create a new image for Conor, whom she calls Cosmo. The new look, however, does not sit well with Brother Baxter. Tensions rise for Conor as his parents announce their separation and sell their home. Sing Street, through all of this, prepares to perform their work live at and end of term school dance.

Since he gained acclaim for his 2007 film Once, writer-director John Carney has told other enjoyable tales about music and the music business. His previous film, 2014's Begin Again, brought together a displaced music executive and a promising singer-songwriter on a novel project. Sing Street is a fine coming of age film where Conor has to make many decisions besides quietly trying to impress Raphina. The movie shows how Conor/Cosmo takes his experiences and writes songs based on them. Carney has a hand in writing many of Sing Street's original songs, with former Danny Wilson frontman Gary Clark assisting in the task. Glen Hansard and Adam Levine, who've appeared in Carney's films, also assist on one of the new tunes. Though not fully characterized, Carney captures the ordeals and the discoveries of adolescence well, though the Catholic schools I attended would have had a decidedly different take on some of the behaviors openly on display at Synge Street.

The relatively unknown Walsh-Peelo delivers in a cast of seasoned actors as Conor/Cosmo. In the opening moments of the movie, he's trying to set his parents' arguments to music. As the film progresses, he learns to find his own words and find his own voice as a singer. Conor also finds a voice to defend himself against his detractors, though others the teen's age would have resorted to fighting. It is Walsh-Peelo, who was fifteen when Sing Street filmed, who sings the lead on the Sing Street tracks. I also enjoyed McKenna, a musician himself as Eamon, the collaborator who always has the time to help Conor with song composition. Boynton is decent as Raphina, a teen girl caught between her dreams and two guys who support them. She does have some working knowledge about modeling and the need for makeup in performance. Reynor has solid moments as the supportive Brendan, while Wycherley brings the sternness of the clergy to life as Br. Baxter, who decides to go outside the school policies to deal with Conor and his rock star looks.

Sing Street marks the third time that Carney has told a story filled with music, and he has delivered with an engaging and inviting mix each time. In Sing Street, he revisits the music of his youth and shows how the songs influenced a teenager to follow their lead in his own way. Carney takes viewers to a day when hair was big, and music had a heavy dose of synthesizers and drum machines. The times were a bit hard for Conor and his mates, but they became determined to not let adversity get the best of them. They saw enough of the adversity in their part of Dublin.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Sing Street 3.5 stars. This is your life/You can go anywhere.


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