FILM REVIEW: Sing Street (2016)

Sing Street

It’s cool to be a cynic. It’s comfortable to be a snob. I don’t leave my comfort zone often enough. Instead I tell myself that I like ‘realistic’ and ‘nuanced’ movies and that feel-good movies are beneath my refined sensibilities. Sing Street is the kind of movie that attracts superlatives like “inspirational,” and, frankly, it’s sappy as hell. The plot is unoriginal. The dialog lacks nuance. The character development is uneven. It slaps you in the face with its message. I want to tell you I hated it, but I’m going to tell you I loved it.

In Sing Street John Carney returns to direct his third musical feature. The film, set in 1980s Dublin, follows the adolescent Connor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) whose life is falling apart. When the family hits a rough patch, Connor’s parents transfer him to a rough Catholic school to save on tuition. At first he doesn’t fit in, but when he forms a band in order to impress the beautiful Raphina (Lucy Boynton) across the street, he begins to find himself. Through the process of writing songs and making music videos he starts to understand what it really means to live life.

From the opening credits the film practically screams “follow your dreams!”. Connor asks a girl out that’s way out of his league. Raphina, jumps into the ocean in the service of art despite being unable to swim. The band members face ridicule for their flamboyant 80s pop-star fashion, but gradually melt everyone’s heart. Check out these lyrics from one of the songs that the band performs:

“This is your life
you can go anywhere
you gotta grab the wheel and own it
and drive it like you stole it”

On paper, the words are cringe-worthy, but within Sing Street, they’re magical. It had me grinning from ear to ear in the dark. It gave me a jolt of joy on a dreary Tuesday afternoon when coffee just wouldn’t cut it. In the end, I walked out of Sing Street feeling like a million bucks. The catchy music, the charismatic leads, and the don’t-be-afraid-to-be-yourself storyline all conspired to cut through my pretension.

Despite its conventionality, the movie hits all the right notes. Connor and Raphina are charming as a romantic odd couple drawn together by their dreams. Their interactions, though highly stylized, feel authentic and relatable. And the music is phenomenal. The band cycles through the various musical styles and fashions of the 1980s in an array of amateur music videos. The result is a series of loving homages to the decade that brought us Depeche Mode and a-ha that rekindled my love for the decade of excess. You’re going to leave the theater with a hankering for drum machines and mix-tapes. You’re going to go home and put on some Talking Heads.

Sing Street is a film that uses the power of cinema and music to cuts through self-sabotaging pomposity. It’s easier to dismiss a film with a simple, uplifting message as treacly than to consider that it reflects a reality that you’re refusing to see. A part of me hates being reminded that people really do follow their dreams. It’s easier to be a snob than acknowledge that I feel as though life is passing me by. As I watch Connor and Raphina discover themselves, though, my critical eye falls away. I’m drawn into their struggle; it becomes my own.

As Sing Street crescendos to an exuberant conclusion, I’m forced to acknowledge that what I really want to do with life is “drive it like I stole it.”

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