Monday, December 11, 2023

Movie Review: John Carney triumphs once more with Sing Street

Director: John Carney
Writers: John Carney
Stars: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jack Reynor, Lucy Boynton

Synopsis: A boy growing up in Dublin during the 1980s escapes his strained family life by starting a band to impress the mysterious girl he likes.


(Back in 2013, this was the structure we used for our reviews, and I thought I’d bring it back. Let us know how you like or do not like it in the comment section below.)

John Carney is a director that many people may not know but when it comes to music, he’s become a director who knows how to blend music and imagery seamlessly into one beautiful melody. His 2007 film Once garnered an Oscar win for Best Original Song and Begin Again in 2014 received an Oscar nomination for the same category. Both films were critically praised as well, proving that Carney is both capable of compelling filmmaking and conjuring great music for his movies. And now here we are with his latest film, Sing Street, set in Dublin in the early 1980’s. Given what I just laid out, do I even need to mention the music of this film? Well, it kind of seems redundant but yes, the music of this film is really fun, especially if you’re a fan of 80’s music. Tracks such as “Drive It Like You Stole It” or “Girls” could end up with Oscar nominations at the end of the year. Carney has this evocative ability to use music as a thematic and emotional crux that moves you and helps resonate his characters identities. You especially feel that when you’re able to engage with the film’s characters, and in Sing Street, you do feel for it’s characters. You may question the ability of 15-year-old’s to create such high quality of music but the film overall is less about their natural ability and more about how Carney uses the music to say something about art and how that ties to identity, seeking understanding and building relationships. As a result, the music and emotion of this film amplifies Carney’s thematic undercurrent.

All of that said, there are some pacing issues here and Carney isn’t quite able to balance the supporting characters here like he has in previous films. Outside of Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and Eamon (Mark McKenna), the Sing Street band members are simply introduced and that’s it. You could argue the same for a few others as well but given this is Cosmo’s journey, which Carney handles quite well, it’s forgivable in the long run. Sing Street‘s issues are small and Carney lands all the right beats for this film to still resonate loudly.


Sing Street opens with a scene where Conor (later named Cosmo) and his family are having a meeting and it’s announced that Conor will be attending a new school, the free state-school Synge Street CBS. At this new school, the principal is very strict and 100% by the book and the school’s bully Barry (Ian Kenny) has decided to target Conor, which leads to a rather unpleasant first couple of days. However, during a break one day, Conor sees a girl across the street and decided to approach her. He finds out her name is Raphina and in order to impress her, he says that he’s in a band and that he wants her for a music video he’s shooting. The thing is, Conor isn’t in a band. Yet. So, he and his new friend Darren (Ben Carolan) set out to start a band which they name Sing Street. With the help of his brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), Conor and his friends start making songs that are inspired by different 80’s bands, which intersects with their journey of seeking identity and well, girls. Conor is eventually able to catch Raphina’s eye but it’s not as easy as Conor would like. They do, however, bond over music and the videos they create together, which leads to Raphina re-naming Conor to Cosmo.

At the heart of Sing Street, it’s about inspiration and what it means to be inspired. However, it’s even more potent in how Carney uses brother relationships as a catalyst for that inspiration. Throughout the film, Brendan is constantly giving advice and love to Conor as it relates to music and art. They have conversations over music videos, why certain artists are more pure than others and Brendan is always giving Connor new music to listen to as homework. We learn Brendan is a college drop out but Carney is intentional about making it known that Brendan is very knowledgeable when it comes to music, something Conor highly respects. In fact, to Conor, everything Brendan says is gold and Conor uses that to drive every action he takes.

Conor is an open slate. He’s vulnerable and looking for identity and starts to find himself in the music his brother shows him. He goes as far as to even dress like the artists he’s inspired by, which does have it’s unintended consequences at times. Cosmo may say and do the wrong things in certain moments but he also shows strenght and will power. There’s a fascinating progression of Conor finding inspiration, rooted in his relationship with is brother, and making it part of himself. When Brendan see’s this, he becomes Conor’s biggest cheerleader and is always pushing Conor to the next level to cultivate the best out of him. It’s really moving and is in turn, inspiration itself. It also leads to some immersive imagery and beautiful symbolism in Sing Street‘s final act.


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In his big screen debut, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo gives a rather engaging performance as Conor. As mentioned, Conor is very impressionable and Walsh-Peelo is great at depicting Conor’s transparencies. He makes the music feel real and visceral within the context of the film and overall gives a rather striking performance. As good as he is though, Jack Reynor and Lucy Boynton, as Brendan and Raphina respectively, steal the show. Reynor is really funny in parts but gives some rather stirring dialogue that perfectly reflects the film’s tone and overall messages. Boynton’s layered performance is captivating as well. Raphina has problems and is emotionally lost, something Boynton brings out perfectly. She brings such subtlety to Raphina that was needed and she lays it on at just the right times.


I don’t even know where to start with this section. As mentioned above, the music is quite wonderful. If you’re a fan of the 80’s, get ready for a nostalgic joygasm. The music here is heavily influenced from bands like Duran Duran, Hall & Oats, The Cure and more. This is a soundtrack you need to seek immediately and listen to on repeat. As great as the music is, it’s how Carney uses it that makes it even more resonate. It works both aesthetically and thematically for Sing Street.


There is a dream sequence that Conor has that is arguably the best sequence Carney has ever shot. Keeping it vague, it essentially reflects this utopia that Conor wants as it relates to his parents, his brother, Raphina, the school and his band but of course reality isn’t quite that perfect. It’s actually a heartbreaking scene but quintessentially represents what this film is getting at in terms of inspiration, music, seeking identity and using all of that to cope with life’s arduousness. It’s a pretty powerful moment that will stand out in film in 2016. Again, this film isn’t perfect but it’s charm and fun will outweigh whatever problems this film does have and the idea of how brothers inspire each other is genuinly affecting.

Overall Grade: A-

JD Duran
JD Duran
InSession Film founder and owner. I love film. Love art. Love how it intersects with our real lives. My favorite movies include Citizen Kane, The 400 Blows, Modern Times, The Godfather and The Tree of Life. Follow me on Twitter @RealJDDuran. Follow us @InSessionFilm.

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