Sing Street – what did this movie do to me? I’m writing this at 3:20 on a Sunday morning because I’ve been left stunned by its impact: the energy, emotion, and optimism that it brings, packaged with an inspired soundtrack. In a year that has seen so many critically recognised films with sensitive topics and dark atmospheres, e.g. Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight, A Monster Calls, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell Or High Water, etc., a void have been left for a movie that focused on the positive aspects of life, even when things may be falling down around us.
Sing Street opens in 1985 Dublin, and it paints a snapshot of the time and location so well that when I finished watching it with my dad (I made him watch it) he was impressed most by how they captured the setting. Props must go to the costume design team, because they must have spent too many days digging through old wardrobes full of memories and horrible clothes in order to perfectly fit this place and time. What this setting mainly accomplishes is facilitating the soundtrack: the time frame given fits exactly within the rise of the likes of MTV and Top of the Pops, so when it comes to the band that Conor (our protagonist) establishes, we can see the influences in the style of the songs they make. The creation and introduction of new songs are the set pieces that make Sing Street excel – we continuously see the musical development of young Conor thanks to his brother Brendan, whenever he sticks on another vinyl, and this keeps you anticipating what’s next. I was enamoured when a new song was being written and then performed.
While Sing Street is a musical of sorts, I would argue it is more of a study of relationships. This is displayed through Conor and his eagerness to learn from his brother Brendan; his craving for Raphina; and his dedication to his friends, especially Eamon. Jack Reynor (Brendan) has the best performance in the film undoubtedly – his unbound commitment to ensuring his younger brother follows the correct path in life is the greatest strength of his character. The damage that Brendan has suffered in his life is obvious, and he is so far removed from the wider world that you do pity his character, but must respect him for his noble efforts concerning his brother. The development of his character was the most emotional thing for me, and by the time the first words appeared on screen once the story faded to black and the credits rolled, it was clear that Carney directed the movie with the focus of this relationship in mind, arguably more so than the one between Conor and Raphina.
Our dealings with Raphina, on the other hand, are part of a narrative that has been seen before, and I’m not going to attempt to say this is an innovative version – but does that make it a negative for the film? I don’t think so, considering the movie very much uses this relationship to forward its plot. The complexity of the relationships that exist within Sing Street create a focus that gives you a genuine interest in the characters at hand, and gives you a reason to be constantly focused on the film.
From a filmmaking standpoint, I consider the writing to be of such a high standard, due to primarily how self-conscious Sing Street is. The most glaring example would be the conversation about Conor being “happy-sad” – this idea of being surrounded by a number of issues, which are simply shit, but ignoring the negative impact of those problems and making the most of what you have. “Happy-sad” is possibly the best description of Sing Street’s tone and its message. When you observe Conor throughout the movie he has actually always followed this ideology. The first indicator to this is the opening scene, where Conor just plays the guitar away mockingly, imitating the argument his parents are having downstairs – what does this say? It is not easy to see your parents growing farther apart and having a dysfunctional marriage, but Conor has his guitar and his ability to create music, which he does believe can bring anyone happiness, and bring people closer together. Sing Street’s greatest expression is that there is a correlation between emotions and music, although the film never directly recognises this.
As the editor of the Film and TV section, I would be doing a disservice to the Irish film industry if I didn’t tell you to watch Sing Street. I have to thank John Carney for delivering a movie that has given me a source of happiness and joy that I haven’t felt in film for a long time now – I know a movie is moving when I have sat through the credits and the screen fully fades to black, and I think: That ended perfectly, and I want to feel those emotions again. But where can I find the same experience anywhere else?
If you want to experience Sing Street, it is now available on Netflix.