Although John Carney’s films aren’t strictly musicals, music always plays an essential role in his work. The Irish filmmaker is truly a master when it comes to expressing a character’s emotions through song. Between Once and Begin Again, he’s given us some of finest modern movies about making music. Sing Street is no exception. On paper, the film’s narrative is virtually every other coming of age story. The way Carney beautifully utilizes the soundtrack to tell that story, however, makes Sing Street one of a kind.
Set in 1985 Dublin, the film follows Ferdia Walsh-Peelo in a wonderful breakthrough performance as Conor. A timid boy, Conor is ignored by his feuding parents at home. Life isn’t much better at his Catholic School, where he receives brutal beatings from a bully, not to mention an oppressive priest who’s also likely a pedophile. Music acts as a coping mechanism for the quiet Conor to let his feelings out. Despite being a pretty amateur musician, he decides to form a band in order to impress a girl named Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Conor and his friends start off covering other artists, but find their own unique sound upon creating original material.
It’s probably a safe assumption that Carney wrote a lot of himself in this film’s main character. The music videos Conor makes with his band clearly don’t a budget. These kids put so much effort and heart into their music, though, that every song leaves you wanting to applaud. Likewise, Carney’s films are never big, extravagant, or expensive. Yet, it’s clear that Carney is pouring his soul in every shot he takes. Sing Street is largely about young people discovering who they are by following their passion. Through uplifting music, Conor ultimately finds his voice, as well as confidence, friendship, and love.
Speaking of music, the film’s soundtrack doesn’t have a single false note. Much like Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some, Sing Street features an exceptional playlist of tunes from the 80’s. However, Carney composed a majority of the key songs here along with Gary Clark. What’s truly incredible is that their music never comes off as satirical. Songs like Up, To Find You, The Riddle Of The Model, Drive It Like You Stole It, and Brown Shoes actually feel like they could’ve been written in the 80’s. What’s more, no two songs sound the same, touching base on a wide range of styles and emotions.
Music aside, there’s so much more to admire in Sing Street. Every actor in the fresh-faced cast delivers an honest performance. The way they all work off each other couldn’t be more genuine, making for one of the best youth ensembles since School of Rock. The romance between Conor and Raphina in particular, despite being a familiar tale of boy meets girl, is surprisingly heartwarming. In addition to touching base on many of the hardships regarding growing up, Sing Street overflows with humor, charm, and joy. In short, I can’t possibly sing this enchanting film higher praise.