Sing Street is the latest offering from director John Carney, whose disparaging comments about Keira Knightley, with whom he worked in his 2013 hit Begin Again, have recently made headlines. Having vowed never to work with ‘supermodels’ again, Carney’s latest film is a coming-of-age story about an Irish teenager who decides to form a band expressly so that he can cast a young model as the star of their first video.
Set in the 1980s, Sing Street follows the teenage Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) as he begins a new school, meets his love interest – Raphina the model (Lucy Boynton) – befriends Darren (Ben Carolan) who quickly becomes the band manager and gathers together a group of musicians who form ‘Sing Street’. Despite having a shaky start, the band’s style of music begins to develop, and the film’s original songs are certainly one of Sing Street’s strongest elements. Music is – as with many of Carney’s films – at the heart of this story, and the 80s soundtrack is a joy.
On the whole, the acting in the film is strong, with Walsh-Peelo making his debut in an understated performance as Cosmo. His parents, played by Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy, are the only bigger names on the cast list, with most of the younger actors appearing on film for the first time in Sing Street. Their performances are unpolished, which is a positive thing as it adds an authenticity to the teenage characters, in turn embodying the awkwardness and faux-bravado that often accompanies teenagers.
The film has a lot of quiet charm, and the various characters that make up the band provide plenty of laughs each. I love the different versions of Cosmo as he turns up to school in a new style of dress, which develops along with his taste in music – at one moment he’s a glam rocker, the next a Mod.
It is unfortunate, however, that the story Sing Street tells – Cosmos’ coming of age – is not the most interesting. Where Cosmo is a fairly ordinary teenage boy, his fellow band members are more compelling characters: the quiet Eamon, with whom Cosmo co-writes, who has a strange love of rabbits, or Ngig, a 2nd generation Irish immigrant who is balancing his parents’ heritage with his own Irish one.
In addition, the female characters in the film mainly exist to further the storylines or add depth to the male characters. There’s a scene in which we see Cosmo and Brendan’s mother Penny (played by Maria Doyle Kennedy) sitting in the sun, as apparently she does every afternoon, soaking up the brief Irish sunshine before the it becomes hidden by the trees. Brendan, Cosmo’s brother (played by Jack Reynor), discusses how their father had always promised to take her on holiday abroad, but how they’d never gone. We’re not supposed to focus on Penny’s lost dreams and unrealised ambitions: rather this is a lesson for Cosmo to seize the day.
Cosmo’s love interest, Raphina, also has an unsatisfactory trajectory within the film. Having spent much of the first half doing little more than appearing as an object of Cosmo’s desire, in the final act of the film we do find out more about her, but not enough to make her really a fully-rounded character that exists independently of Cosmo.
Whilst the majority of the film maintains a solid charm, this is unfortunately lost in the final few scenes of the film. Emerging from a victorious gig in which Cosmo manages to stick it to the abusive headmaster, he and Raphina decide to steal Cosmo’s father’s boat and sail to London. I kept waiting for the moment when they would realise they hadn’t got any money, hadn’t checked the boat’s petrol levels, didn’t have any food or clothing with them, and then when a massive storm hits as they leave the Irish coast, I was worried Sing Street was about to descend into a disaster movie. But we never know Cosmo and Raphina’s fate – we’re left on an optimistic cliff-hanger as the two sail off into the storm towards London. I felt anything but optimistic as the film closed – all I could think about was how unlikely it would be that the two would actually make the crossing safely. Perhaps that’s my fault for being too practical and not getting lost in the movie magic, but the ending just felt far too improbable, and ultimately weakened the movie’s message. What should have been a story about following your dreams turns, at the last minute, into a warning about how dangerous and reckless that can actually be.
Ultimately, Sing Street is a fun film with some very sweet, poignant moments depicting how tricky, but also how exciting it can be to be 16 years old, discovering who you are and how you want to express yourself. To a great extent the film is a love song to the importance of music, both in the listening and the creating. Sing Street is a sweet and entertaining film, but unfortunately the choice to follow a main character that doesn’t diverge from the narrative of unremarkable, white, straight male that we have seen many, many times before, fails to elevate the film into anything more.