What would you do to impress someone? For Conor Lalor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), the answer to that question is basically anything. After being transferred to a new school, he sees Raphina (Lucy Boynton) standing across the road and goes up to talk to her. He finds out that she’s a model so he creates a relationship the only way he knows how: he asks her to be in a music video for his band. This would have been a good idea except he doesn’t actually have a band. Conor and his friend recruit band members and start writing songs and making music videos. His initial hope is just to find an excuse to talk to Raphina but eventually his musical ambitions grow to match and entwine with his romantic goals.
The film is set in the ’80s and is heavily influenced by the music of the era. Conor’s older brother hands out records like a teacher assigns homework to guide the musical progression of the band. Duran Duran, Hall & Oates, The Cure and more artists are the sonic inspiration for the developing group as well as the soundtrack to the film. The band’s original music begins spectacularly as each song is energetic, catchy, and sincerely adolescent. Despite the high production values added by the real songwriter and music producer, they feel honest to the characters’ age. These early tracks are so memorable that when the later songs are played, while still strong, they feel lackluster in comparison. Instead of steadily building to a showstopping number, the film’s final performance is overshadowed which detracts from the emotional climax that it is supposed coincide with.
Director John Carney (Once) displays a deep affection for his characters. The story is the semi-autobiographical account of his own childhood and each of the band members, while clearly misfits, are endearing in their own way. The main cast had no prior acting experience and Carney is able bring out natural performances from them. The key instrumental talent Eamon (Mark McKenna) spends most of his time doing “rabbit stuff” and the pint-sized redhead Darren (Ben Carolan) is oblivious to his own limits as he signs up as the band’s manager, music video producer, and cinematographer. They’re also hilariously unaware of their mistakes. Conor’s attempts at acting cool in front of Raphina are endearing failures and the band’s attempts at creating a signature look fail miserably as each band member is limited to what he can find in his closet, This leads to a band with members dressed in a ’80s suede disco suit, a heavy trenchcoat, and even a cowboy.
It is this disregard for realities and probabilities that gives Sing Street its infectious charm. The characters are underdogs that don’t realize it and they take every challenge head on. Form a band? Ok. Write a song? Let’s get started. They never take a moment to examine their own abilities which fills the film with a sweet, naive optimism. And this applies to more than making music. The film compares music to love. Conor’s brother says “Rock and a roll is a risk…” and its clear throughout that this is the same risk Conor takes in pursuing Raphina. In pursuing his passion, he risks ridicule and failure, but, as Raphina puts it, “for [your] art [you] can never do anything by half.” Sing Street is a vivacious and endearing story of growing up through music and romance with an exceptional soundtrack that will be on many playlists for years to come.