So, it appears that writer/director John Carney is getting the band together. Again. But don’t let that read as exasperation, because Mr. Carney somehow keeps pulling the rabbit out of the hat, with format, genre, and style. He has an infectious and passionate love of music. They say his films are somewhat autobiographical. I believe it. It shines through unmistakably. Somehow he pulled off what could’ve been (but wasn’t), a flimsy, throwaway narrative in 2014’s “Begin Again”. The big star cast (Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Catherine Keener), and Mr. Carney’s screenplay, really helped spark that one to life. “Sing Street” is even better. And, more than likely, you won’t know anyone in it. But you’ll recognize a lot of the songs. And also greatly appreciate the new ones.
It’s 1985 in Dublin, and the Lalor family has fallen on some hard times. Dad/husband Robert (Aidan Gillen) is only partially employed, and Mom/wife Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) has lost some hours at work. Plus, their marriage is falling apart. Their intelligent, but wayward, son Brendan (the charismatic Jack Reynor), is a too-cool-for-his-own-good college dropout. There’s also a young daughter named Ann (Kelly Thornton). But the offspring most affected by the financial woes is Conor (a terrific Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), as he’s being taken out of a tuition-based school, and sent to the state school known as Synge Street CBS. And it’s there, under the malevolent domination of Principal Baxter (a perfect Don Wycherley), that Conor is forced to find himself. He woos a beautiful older girl named Raphina (the beguiling Lucy Boynton) by talking about his “band”, and then actually sets out to create one. It becomes the catalyst that gives him something to believe in, and strengthens his confidence and resolve. But will he “get the girl”?
Mr. Carney decided to cast a bunch of unknown actors, along with his more seasoned pros in the cast–and it was a solid instinct. There’s a realistic, and unmannered, naturalism that jumps out of the screen with youngsters like Ben Carolan, Mark McKenna, Percy Chamburuka, and the aforementioned Mr. Walsh-Peelo. The importance, and infancy, of music videos is BIG in “Sing Street”, and the original compositions on the soundtrack are complimented, and enhanced, by highly popular pop stuff from Duran Duran, The Cure, Hall & Oates, and Joe Jackson. And when “Back to the Future” is lovingly recalled, it’s sweet, nostalgic overload. Carney knows exactly what he’s doing. Oh, I guess he really didn’t grasp how to end the darn thing, and occasionally sentiment gets in the way. But the story, while familiar, maintains a crisp vitality. So, I’ve officially given up on thinking that John Carney can’t keep making trips to this particular well. He’ll just end up proving me wrong…again.