Sophia Ritchie ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Director John Carney is known for striking movie musical gold with hits like 2007’s Once and 2013’s Begin Again. These were two vastly different films, one a quiet indie heartbreaker with mostly unknown actors, and the other a big picture pop number starring Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley – about as Hollywood as one can imagine. As opposing as these films might have been, they shared the same soul and told the same story: music can and does change lives.
Sing Street, his latest music film, is a different animal too. It follows a teenage boy named Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) in 1985 inner city Dublin, who is suffering from problems at home and bullies at his new school. Though it’s just as vastly different, it’s just as musical, and ultimately, just as successful, as Carney’s other dynamite hits.
Cosmo’s parents, played by Maria Doyle Kennedy and Aiden Gillen, are struggling to make ends meet and move Cosmo from his more expensive high school to Synge Street CBS – Carney’s own high school, back in the day – to save money. Synge Street, whose motto is “Act Manly,” is a veritable all-boys zoo, and Cosmo is painfully out of place when he gets there. The head priest Brother Baxter (a villainous Don Wycherley) singles out Cosmo for everything from his attitude to his brown shoes, and the bullies seem to smell blood on him the way lions do gazelles.
Then Cosmo meets Raphina (Lucy Boynton), the beautiful, mysterious girl across the street who claims to be a model. To impress her, he does the natural thing: he pretends to be in a band.
What follows is part coming of age dramedy and part 80’s music video, but one hundred percent, to the bone, Carney.
Said to be in part a “spiritual” autobiography of Carney’s Irish 80’s childhood, the film is truly an ode to boyhood. Cosmo is struggling to find his new place in the world: puberty, especially in the midst of a bunch of hormonal teenaged boys, is a scary place. Battered on all sides by what masculinity is supposed to look like – his failure father, aggressive Brother Baxter, his philosophical but perpetually stoned shut-in of an older brother played by an unrecognizable Jack Reynor – Cosmo latches on to music as a means of self-expression and survival. He brings together all manner of misfits to form his band, Sing Street, and that’s where the fun begins.
As per usual, Carney’s eye for casting is dynamite; not one of them falls flat with even the smallest roles cast to perfection. Previously unknown Walsh-Peelo is a star, juggling comedic charisma with dramatic underacting, a skill typically far above his age, to create a believable and lovable teenager. Reynor as Cosmo’s older brother Brendan is pretentious, pathetic, and powerful, an utterly captivating comedic performance from an actor best known for a Transformers movie.
And of course, an explosively fun soundtrack accompanies the film. Original songs like “Drive It Like You Stole It” are interspersed amongst classic 80’s hits from the Cure and Duran Duran, painting a rich, neon picture of the decade. What starts as a means of escape and survival for Cosmo becomes a true passion, and the songs in Sing Street capture that journey so well. It’s impossible not to bop along to the beat in the middle of the theater.
If Carney ever decides to move on from music as a form of cinematic storytelling, consider it a huge loss to the art form. Few understand the genre as well as him, and Sing Street is another brilliant, heartwarming installment in it.
Overall Grade: A
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