In the perfect antidote to a pretty awful 2016, John Carney‘s uplifting, touching musical Sing Street has just landed on Netflix in the UK and it’s also available on DVD and Blu-ray. Released all too briefly in the summer, the film flew largely under the radar, with the exception of some rapturous reviews from a selection of film critics who appreciated its low-key magic.
I discovered the film when it arrived on Blu-ray and it quickly became my favourite film of the year. In a 12-month period that featured Ken Loach‘s brutally honest benefits tale I, Daniel Blake, scintillating anime Your Name and Leonardo DiCaprio being savaged by a CGI bear, it was a ragtag group of Irish schoolkids in the 1980s who marked the best that cinema had to offer.
As we wave goodbye to 2016 tonight, here are a few reasons why it’s worth getting out the laptop and delving into the wonderful world of Sing Street.
It might seem obvious to say that the songs are a major reason to watch a musical, but the songs in Sing Street are nothing short of tremendous. The headline track is the uplifting earworm ‘Drive It Like You Stole It’, but there’s plenty to be said for the adorable cheese of ‘Riddle of the Model’ and the pop-punk defiance of ‘Brown Shoes’. Combined with the injection of hits from the likes of The Jam and Hall & Oates, the film’s soundtrack evokes both the film’s period setting and the adapting tastes of youth. The songs in Sing Street are calibrated to reflect a young band evolving and transforming before our eyes.
Much of the credit here must go to veteran songwriter Gary Clark who, along with Carney, birthed many of these instantly memorable ditties. Each of the film’s tracks worms itself into your brain until you find yourself singing them for days and weeks afterwards. I can guarantee that this is a better musical way to welcome the New Year than whatever Jools Holland has in store.
Sing Street is set in the midst of inner-city Dublin during the 1980s. Carney has said that aspects of the film are semi-autobiographical and based on his own upbringing. He is an alumnus of Synge Street – the school depicted in the film. This certainly lines up with how faithfully that setting is communicated in the film, which evokes every part of the period with love and reverence. The music provides a great backdrop to it all, but the film’s sense of style and authenticity radiates from every scene. Comparisons to The Commitments, also a musical based in 80s Ireland, were made by many.
The 80s period also allows for some outrageous style choices as the central character, Conor, and his friends cycle through various musical styles and fashion icons as they try to find their true voice. Few films have felt as at one with their period as Sing Street does.
In casting a mixture of established names and entirely new faces, Sing Street achieves an eclectic range of performances. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is an identifiably awkward youngster and Lucy Boynton, who had previously appeared in a couple of films, is perfect as the beguiling, self-conscious woman who casts a bewitching spell upon the protagonist from the moment they first meet. Jack Reynor, who has picked some bad roles recently, is the best he has ever been here as the older brother guiding his sibling through life, love and music in the midst of a turbulent divorce between parents Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy, with the latter bolstering that link with The Commitments.
But it’s outside of the main players that Sing Street really shines, offering debut film roles to a handful of genuinely brilliant actors. Ben Carolan is the standout as the wise beyond his years band manager Darren, but there’s also Mark McKenna as the bunny-loving multi-instrumentalist Eamon and Ian Kenny as school bully Barry. It’s a film in which everyone is perfectly cast and completely at home in their roles.
I think, at this stage, we can probably call John Carney the master of the modern movie musical. Well, we can until La La Land arrives anyway. With Once and Begin Again, Carney marked himself out as a filmmaker capable of using music to enhance a story. His films aren’t musicals in the sense of randomly bursting into song; they’re movies about music itself and its power to change lives.
Carney brings that unique sensibility to Sing Street, which sees a young man discover who he is through the vessel of his music. Carney keeps the direction sweet and simple for the most part, but has several huge set pieces that he detonates at just the right time. He is a filmmaker who understands what music can do and makes films that use their songs to say something about humanity.
Sing Street tells a deeply emotional story, but the primary feeling throughout is one of joy. It’s a film that lifts its audience into the air and spins them around, particularly in the delightful set piece moments that jolt the story out of reality. From the songs that demand you sing along to the incredibly unusual moments of zany comedy, this is a film that wants to make its audience smile and have a good time.
The film’s finale has been criticised for entirely leaving the realms of realism behind but, just like the flying car in Grease, it’s the perfect end to a modern musical tale that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is a story about the power of music and youthful idealism and, in the world Carney creates, that power has no limit.
Just so there’s no excuse, the film is available on Netflix right here. Do yourself a favour and make the last few hours of 2016 way better than the rest of the year.
Will you be watching Sing Street tonight? Have you already seen the film and loved it? Do you think it’s a little overrated? Let me know in the comments section.