There’s something about a coming-of-age story that’s so incredibly inspiring and heartfelt. Many people often says it’s the way in which the best ones like Stand By Me or The Breakfast Club are perfectly able to capture the time in which they are set, banking on an older audience’s sense of nostalgia while injecting just enough humor to seize their attention. While those things most certainly play a role in any movie that follows a young protagonist taking their first steps into adulthood, the quality of the film almost always comes down to the earnestness of the script and the talent of its young performers. Thankfully, Sing Street, the latest musical-drama directed and written by Irish-filmmaker John Carney (Once, Begin Again) has all of those things in spades, proving that it’s not only one of the best movies released this year, but also one of the best films about growing up in quite some time.
Set in 1985 during Ireland’s great economic recession, the film follows Conor (Ferida Walsh-Peelo), a Dublin native and teenager. Along with his family’s countless financial woes, his aloof father (Aidan Gillen) and mother (Maria Doyle Kennedy) are constantly arguing and are on the verge of splitting up. To make matters worse, he’s pulled out of private school and sent to a inner-city public school populated by unfriendly priests and angry bullies. Despite everything falling apart around him, he notices a stunningly beautiful girl named Raphina (Lucy Boynton) across the street and does his best to get her attention. Hoping to gain her interest, Conor does the most logical thing a teenage boy would do, and tells her that he has his own band and asks if she’d like to be in one of their music videos. With her interest piqued, Conor goes about trying to form a band with his friend Darren (Ben Carolan) and fellow musician Eamon (Mark McKenna), all the while receiving a proper education in music and style from his older brother, played wonderfully by Jack Reynor.
It’s the hasty assembling of the band that takes up the first half of Sing Street, and it’s here that the film really shows its comedic sensibilities by highlighting the ragtag group’s eccentricities and struggles to find inspiration for their music. One of the funniest moments in the film has Conor and his friends trying to figure out what their look should be, and initially settle on a strange cross between The Village People and Duran-Duran. These endearing scenes only continue to get better when the band slowly but surely finds true direction when writing and performing original compositions.
As displayed in Once, Carney has an innate ability to seamlessly tell a story through music, and that gift is displayed in full force in Sing Street. Every song in the film has its own particular theme, and whether they’re about infatuation, love or rebelliousness, they all reflect the evolving relationship between Conor and Raphina. The compositions themselves, many of which were written by Carney and pop singer Gary Clark, are all great, particularly “The Riddle of the Model,” “Brown Shoes,” and “To Find You.” However, even all of these songs pale in comparison to “Drive It Like You Stole It,” a suitably toe-tapping number that becomes even more dazzling to watch as Conor imagines himself and his friends clad in burgundy tuxedos and performing in a 1950s gymnasium styled after the one seen in Back to the Future.
Aside from the brilliant sense of humor and music, the film’s greatest success is the romantic dynamic between its leads. Walsh-Peelo and Beyton’s chemistry comes across immediately, and it’s impossible not to smile and laugh as they attempt to navigate their romantic feelings for one another. Nothing about their relationship feels particularly outlandish or superficial, and even when the film starts to play with familiar, almost cliché story-beats, Carney quickly comes in with even more character depth, firmly grounding the relationship between the two (for the most part) in reality.
In all honesty, there’s so much to appreciate about Sing Street. Carney has crafted a layered and funny movie that not only explores the intricacies of young love, but also the ways in which music can open up and evolve one’s sense of creativity and passion.
Arbitrary Rating: 10 out of 10 pairs of brown shoes.
Sing Street is currently in select theaters nationwide.