“By Anna Husted EBS FILM CRITIC
Nothing describes my reaction to John Carney’s “Sing Street” better than his own lyrics to “Drive it Like You Stole It,” sang by 17-year-old Ferdia Walsh-Peelo: “You won’t let it go, you keep coming back for more.” Released in 2016, “Sing Street” makes a great film to catch up with around St. Patrick’s Day for its heart, soul and Irish roots.
Irish loner Conor (Walsh-Peelo), an outsider from the outset of the film, is sent to a new public school after his dad loses his job. Feeling that the only way to make friends is by not fitting in, Conor decides to form a band. But the band is about more than just playing music, which it does quite well. It’s also about the lifestyle and pomp of being a band in the ‘80s. As his older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor), who probably prefers Zig Zag to a pipe, says: “You’ve got to learn how not to play.”
“Sing Street” hearkens back to another great Irish film, 1991’s “The Commitments,” not just in its era, but also in its form and style. Conor teeters somewhere between Billy Idol and David Bowie, rebellious in his own right. He would rather dress how he wants and defend the nerds than follow school uniform codes and be the bully. His bandmates look like Duran Duran and his love interest, Raphina (Lucy Boynton), could have stepped right out of a John Hughes movie. The climactic ending of the film washes the band makeup and uniforms away, showing us that Conor just wants to do the right thing by the girl and band he loves.
This Irish coming-of-age story tears down the establishment, in this case the school system, and builds up friendship, music, performance and grit. “Sing Street” respects high schoolers in a way many movies don’t by letting them tell their stories with low camera angles, which puts them on a subconscious pedestal, and by leaving the adults in the periphery, giving the lion’s share of screen time to the kids.
I won’t go deeper into the plot or characters because you’ve got to see it for yourself. The emotional tone is impassioned excitement for life and love despite being dealt a bad hand. This is best expressed through the soundtrack, which features “Inbetween Days” by The Cure and “Town Called Malice” by The Jam.
Unsurprisingly, coming from the same writer and director as “Once,” the soundtrack to “Sing Street” will stick with you for the rest of time. Not only because it has undertones of ‘80s pop rock, but also because it cleverly delivers a message of questioning authority through original songs like “Brown Shoes,” which points out the foolishness of a school dress code while the school can’t afford new supplies and better teachers. Conor sees the world as it could be, not as he’s told it is, and he proves that it can be a better place.
Carney’s movies give us a sense of place in Ireland and they
always subtly inform his characters’ choices. But more than that, he gives us
humanity through a young man and his guitar. I can’t wait to see what he comes
up with next.
“Sing Street” is available to rent on Amazon Prime, Google Play or YouTube.
Anna Husted has a master’s in film studies from New York University. In Big Sky, she can be found up on the hill or at the movies at Lone Peak Cinema. When not gazing at the silver screen or watching her new favorite TV show, she’s skiing, fishing or roughhousing with her cat, Indiana Jones.