Each night I ask the stars up above:
Why must I be a teen-ager in love?
-- Dion and the Belmonts
Sometimes a film comes along that you just want to hug. In this case, I’m talking about Sing Street -easily the best musical of 2016 (sorry, La La Land……..not really sorry) and the best musical overall since 2007’s Once. The comparison to Once shouldn’t be too surprising considering that both films are the product of writer-director John Carney. The fact that this film and its eclectic soundtrack didn’t’ score a single Oscar nod is a major blemish on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. #FuckLaLaLand
The film is a blast from the past, in more ways than one, telling the story of a 16 year-old outcast named Conor who is growing up in 1985 Dublin. He is played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, in a star-making performance. As the film begins, we learn that his parents have hit hard times, both financially and romantically. To save money, they must send Conor to the local all-boys Catholic school. Once there, he attracts the unwanted attention of two bullies: one being in his own grade and the other being the strict Headmaster. One day, he notices a beautiful young woman across the street named Raphina (played by Lucy Boynton). Feeling fearless, he strikes up a conversation with the 18 year-old wannabe model and decides to impress her with the most traditional of lies: he has a band and he needs a model for his upcoming video shoot.
Conor is quickly joined in his quest to create a believable band by a group of eager classmates. Key among his new bandmates is Eamon (Mark McKenna), who just happens to be the son of a professional musician and is able to provide all necessary instruments and a practice space. Eamon also becomes Conor’s main writing partner. In one charming scene, a night of Raphina-induced insomnia finds Conor at Eamon’s doorstep bright and early inquiring, “Will you help me write a song?” Eamon’s response: “Always.” I was reminded of the relationship I read about between Glenn Frey and Don Henley. Known for their prolific writing partnership, when The Eagles broke up they each saw an opportunity to grow as solo artists. The first step in that growth was finding new writing partners. To them, music was always a truly collaborative process. But so I digress.
Conor is also aided in his musical journey by his older brother and perpetual stoner Brendan (Jack Raynor). When Conor and his bandmates’ first effort is a tone deaf cover of Duran Duran’s “Rio,” Brendan derides him for being unoriginal: “Rock and Roll is a risk. You risk being ridiculed.” Through Brendan’s tutelage, Conor finds ways to create new music that is reflective of the times. What ensues are the Duran Duran-esque “Riddle of the Model,” The Cure-inspired “A Beautiful Sea,” Elton John-evocative “Drive It Like You Stole It,” and The Clash-reminiscent “Brown Shoes.” Each song is accompanied by a video shoot starring Raphina, who finds herself drawn to Conor and his developing talent. Of course they fall in love, with plenty of complications.
The film ends with the starry-eyed teenagers taking a chance and journeying to London to the sound of Adam Levine’s powerful anthem “Go Now.” By no means is it a conventionally happy ending. Truth be told, there’s an undercurrent of realism that says there is no way that this 16 year-old budding musician and 18 year-old aspiring model A) find success and B) stay together. But you find yourself rooting for them. The last shot of the film is one of hope.
Speaking of hope, I hope I haven’t given too much away. Sing Street is full of heart, humor, plenty of other surprises (the homemade music videos being key) and has a first rate 80’s soundtrack full of classic tracks and plenty of originals (another gem is the ballad “Up”). John Carney obviously knows plenty about music and like Once has a knack for touching love stories. I’m guessing just like Once, Sing Street will find itself reborn on Broadway sometime soon. But in the meantime, feel free to discover it for yourself.
PS – Fuck La La Land