John Carney’s Sing Street is a masterful modern musical. It delves into the relatable complexities of aspiring talents everywhere. It is a fun, engaging, charming, and often beautiful reflection on what goes through the ever-changing minds of those who want more in life. Carney’s previous efforts are all in the similar vein of hopeful desperation, but something about the youthful approach in this film makes it stand out as an absolutely must-see.
The film follows Cosmo, a 15-year-old guitarist. As his parents enter the final stages of a troubled marriage, Cosmo is sent to an All-Boys Irish-Catholic Preparatory Institute. This new school is strictly run by Brother Baxter, who leaves no room for personal endeavors into one’s soul. That is, until one day, when Cosmo first meets Rafina. An eccentric and perplexing character, she embodies the idea and beauty of chaos (something that the refined find ever so appealing nowadays, it appears). But more importantly, Rafina is the catalyst for Cosmo to pursue some sort of artistic endeavor in his life, and begin to explore his greater expressions. In an attempt to woo her, Cosmo creates a ragtag band with his fellow cohorts, a selection of hilarious misfit students. From here, the film delves deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of love, music, art, and the pursuit of happiness.
When Sing Street works, it works. The film is composed of simplistic cinematography that helps capture an enlightened look of (often gloomily portrayed) Ireland. The performances are all superb, especially the chemistry between the lead performances of newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Cosmo), and the beautiful Lucy Boynton. The supporting cast is great, but the best moments often come from the under-utilized fellow band-mates, who are hilarious. Most importantly, the energy of the original music, and the scenes enveloped around the various compositions, are beautiful. Every song is fitting for the era, and deeply meaningful. I suspect this soundtrack will go very far in the future. The peak of this film falls in the end of the second act, during a well-crafted fantasy sequence for Cosmo, as he pictures the young, charming, musician ideals. He imagines performing to an energetic prom-night crowd, all set to the theme of “the dance scene in Back to the Future.” He pictures Rafina coming in to dance, the crowd parting ways, and everything being resolved in his life. But as the song finishes, his fantasy ends, and he returns to the bleak reality of the world around him.
These beautiful moments are littered throughout the film, and make it all the better. Unfortunately, I have two major qualms with this film. First and foremost, the performance from Jack Reynor as ‘Brendan,’ Cosmo’s elder brother, who acts as a secondary catalyst for Cosmo’s interest in music, is mediocre at best. Despite a hilariously well-written character, Reynor’s attempt at an Irish accent often slips in and out of authenticity, and makes it very distracting to believe in him.
The second critique I have regards the clichés of modern romance films. Rafina is first presented as a strong, independent female. She desperately wishes to leave the clutches of her home in Ireland, to sail to the shores of Britain, and pursue her dreams of being a model. And despite these strong ideals, she is reduced down to a Siren for Cosmo. Their affection for each other is palpable, but in the end, her dreams are set aside. She becomes a weak, secondary character.
Why this peeves me so much is that I have seen this before. Millions of times. I could list off film after film after film where a male character is introduced to some amazing female figure, strives for her, temporarily loses her, but after some time, they reunite. It’s so beyond cliché at this point, that I want something more real to happen. I had hoped the film would have taken a more cynical or realist approach, and have Rafina leave the island for good, off into the world to pursue her dreams of becoming a model. This loss would have been a more connectable motivation for Cosmo, and to see his music to take form. Per typical romance film clichés, though, this was not the case. The two get together, and live happily ever after.
Overall, Sing Street has the potential to be a classic coming-of-age film for future ages. But more importantly, this film is a perfect musical. The age and days of the American musicals are done and over. West Side Story is gone; Chicago and Oklahoma can remain places on a map. If Sing Street gives us any sign on the new musical approach in film, we are in great hands. There is a beautiful line in the film where the sinister Brother Baxter, after forcing Cosmo to wipe away make-up from his face, says to him, “No more Ziggy Stardust.” And, as sad and timely as that statement is (Rest in Peace Mr. Bowie), it’s true. The time for classic music and artistic expressions of the past have come and gone. But what lies in their wake, and what rises from the ashes, is something to be excited for.
(Sing Streets opens on April 29th at Alamo Drafthouse – South Lamar and Regal Arbor 8)
Written by: Jake Sanders