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New Release Review - SING STREET

Transferred to a rough school, a 15-year-old boy forms a band to impress an older girl.



Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: John Carney

Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jack Reynor, Lucy Boynton, Kelly Thornton



Sing Street is a reminder of what a truly creative moment in pop culture the '80s was, with music and fashion trends evolving on a month to month basis. In this age of movies loaded with nostalgia for other movies, it's refreshing to indulge in a form of nostalgia grounded in an actual lived past.



Following on from Once and Begin Again, writer-director John Carney completes a trilogy of music themed movies with the semi-autobiographical, semi-musical Sing Street, whose title is a wordplay most likely only recognisable to residents of Carney's hometown of Dublin, referring as it does to Synge Street, the location of the school attended by the movie's protagonist.
Things are going well enough for 15-year-old Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) until his middle class parents (Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) transfer him to the rough and tumble working class Synge Street school in an attempt to save money in the midst of the mid-'80s recession, which, as an opening news segment on emigration outlines, took a particularly harsh toll on Ireland. 
Cosmo immediately runs into trouble in his new surroundings, making enemies of an aggressive skinhead and a sadistic Christian Brother. Fortunately he's taken under the wing of a fellow outsider and convinced to form a band, a move chiefly driven by his desire to get close to the angelic Raphina (Lucy Boynton), an older girl who resides in a nearby home for orphaned girls.
In period and theme, Carney's film shares similarities with Lukas Moodysson's We Are the Best!, but where the Swedish film was a refreshingly honest look at the whims of bored teenagers, Sing Street is a far more conventional coming of age tale. It's the sort of movie in which teenage boys instantly become capable musicians upon picking up a guitar for the first time, have access to boats, and manage to win the affection of girls way out of their league and age range. It's set specifically in 1985, but that year seems to have been picked simply to serve as a representation of the '80s as a whole. Duran Duran are referred to as an up and coming band, despite having been topping the charts since 1982, and some of the schoolkids sport the 'flat-top and fringe' style that came in vogue following the Acid House craze of 1988. It's a fantasy, but as with Begin Again, Carney's enthusiasm and obvious love of the redemptive power of music is intoxicating to a degree that makes such quibbles seem annoyingly pedantic.
For most of its running time, Sing Street is as light as a feather, which makes a subplot concerning a physically abusive Christian Brother feel highly misjudged in its throwaway treatment. From the moment Cosmo enters his new school, he's wary of the Brothers, even referring to them explicitly as 'rapists'. There's a sense that Carney is looking back with the gift of hindsight, as I attended a Christian Brothers school in Dublin at roughly the same time, and I can assure you my fellow pupils and I, along with most of Ireland, were entirely ignorant of such a threat's existence (and I feel I should add that none of the brothers in my school ever lifted a finger towards any of their charges; my parents' generation is a different story however). A closing title card dedicating his movie to 'brothers everywhere' suggests a very personal vendetta on Carney's part.
At time of writing, Sing Street's 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes proves the film will play to an international audience, but for those of us of Carney's generation, it's a film packed with '80s Irish easter eggs, from the awful haircuts of the schoolboys to the distinctive emblem on the back of Aisling copy books. The period detail took me back to my Dublin childhood in a way no movie ever has before, and the outstanding ensemble of kids brought back memories of old friends I hadn't given a thought to in years. But most of all it's a reminder of what a truly creative moment in pop culture the '80s was, with music and fashion trends evolving on a month to month basis. In this age of movies loaded with nostalgia for other movies, it's refreshing to indulge in a form of nostalgia grounded in an actual lived past.
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