You know which genre of film always surprises me as being the most divisive of them all? Musicals! While it may seem strange that this genre is so divisive, it’s not hard to understand why that is so. It’s a genre that people either love or hate with a passion. Ever since they made a comeback in film 15 years ago, big screen musicals have had varying disagrees of success with audiences. However every now and again a film musical will come along that is so good, that even non-fans of the genre even embrace them as well. One of the few filmmakers to do that successfully was Irish filmmaker John Carney, who made the acclaimed musicals ONCE and BEGIN AGAIN. Now Carney is back to bring us his latest musical to the big screen: SING STREET. Is as good as his previous musicals? Read on and find out!
Set in 1985 the film tells the story of Conor Lalor (Fredia Walsh-Peelo) , a young 15-year-old teenager who lives with his parents and older siblings in Dublin, Ireland. After finding out that his father’s architecture business has been struggling, Conor’s parents (Aiden Gillen) decide that they’ll be taking him out of his private school and transfer him to Synge Street Christian Brother School in an effort to save money. Conor finds it hard to fit in at the school due to dealing with both the school bully and the principal but after leaving school one day, he meets a mysterious teenage girl named Raphnia (Lucy Boynton). Conor is instantly smitten, and in a way to impress her, he asks her if she would be interested in appearing in a music video for his band. After she agrees, Conor and his new friend Darren (Ben Carolan) start rounding up a few students from their to form a band and calling themselves Sing Street.
Okay, I know what you are thinking. Based on the synopsis, this film’s plot doesn’t sound like anything that we haven’t seen many other times in music based films. I would be lying if I said that wasn’t the case here. However if you’ve seen writer/director John Carney’s previous work, he’s a filmmaker who puts a lot of heart into his films that you can’t help but be swept up by them. This was both an extremely well made and a very entertaining musical comedy/drama from Carney. I agree with my fellow film critics that this film feels like a combination of his two previous musicals ONCE and BEGIN AGAIN. It is like a mixture of the indie sensibilities of the former and the mainstream appeal of the latter, which worked really for the film. Plus since this one is semi-autobiographical to Carney’s life, it definitely adds an extra layer of authenticity to the story.
While it’s a film that aims to entertain its audience, it also deals with some serious elements as well in regards to the struggles that the character of Conor is facing at home and in school. Carney did really good job filmmaking wise, his direction was really strong and his script was well written. Also you can tell he that he has a lot of love for that period in the mid-’80s, especially with the music of that time. The film reflects that without it feeling like its forced or pandering. Now since this is a John Carney musical, you’re probably wondering if the music in the film is any good? Well, I’m happy to report that just like his previous films, the soundtrack to SING STREET is absolutely fantastic. All the original songs (which Carney co-wrote with some other songwriters) are each terrific and they perfectly capture the music of that era. Plus the soundtrack also includes an excellent selection of classic ’80s tunes from the likes of The Cure, Hall & Oates, The Jam, Duran Duran etc. as well.
Another major highlight of the film was the cast, who all gave likable performances in their roles. The stand outs being Fredia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton and Jack Reynor. Newcomer Walsh-Peelo (who makes his acting debut in this film) was really impressive in lead role of Conor, who I found to be a likeable and relatable protagonist. I don’t recall seeing Boynton in any films before, but I thought she was truly wonderful as Raphnia. She’s such a charming and illuminating onscreen presence, I can see her becoming a big star in the future. Both her and Walsh-Peelo have great chemistry together too. Reynor, who plays Conor’s college dropout older brother Brendan, stole every scene he was in with his performance. Plus he brings layers to the character that make him more well-rounded too.
In terms of negatives, there were some aspects that I thought were flawed. Despite having a well written script, the plot is pretty predictable and it doesn’t really add anything that we haven’t already seen before in other films of it’s type. While Don Wycherley was fine in the role of the school’s tough principle Brother Baxter, I found him to be a stereotypical one-dimensional bad priest character. Plus the film’s tonal shifts between comedy and drama can be a bit jarring at times and the ending was a little too Hollywoodized for me. Sure I did get caught up with the emotion of it and I found it very uplifting but at the same time, it just felt very out of tone with the rest of the film.
Overall while it isn’t an instant beloved classic like ONCE was, John Carney’s SING STREET is still a terrific feel-good musical that sets out and succeeded at being a crowd pleasing good time. If you enjoyed Carney’s previous work or just music-based films all together, I definitely recommended you all to check it out. I have a feeling you’ll equally enjoy it as well.
Review written by Bede Jermyn