Sing Street


★★

Directed by John Carney

Starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Mark McKenna, Percy Chamburuka, Conor Hamilton

Film Review by Colin Lomas

It’s 1980s Dublin and times are tough. Fourteen-year-old schoolboy Cosmo (Walsh-Peelo) is taken out of his posh public school to attend a hard-line Christian education facility due to his parents' struggle to make ends meet. Cosmo’s older brother Brendon (Reynor) is having difficulty making any sense of life and spends his time smoking dope in his room and obsessively watching Top of the Pops. While Cosmo’s parents are constantly arguing about money and mortgages, he spends time in his bedroom playing guitar and dreaming of a better, music related life. During the daily abuse at his new school he notices new girl Raphia (Boynton) sitting opposite the school gates and approaches her to ask her if she will be in his band's new music video, to which she surprisingly agrees. The only issue is that he doesn’t yet have a band. Cosmo then sets out to create a band with the help of school mate ‘producer’ Darren (Carolan) in an attempt to bring himself closer to his new sweetheart.


As Cosmo fretfully assembles the band it’s like witnessing a casting executive's dream come true in a single thirty-minute section. Guitarist Eamon (McKenna) has the looks, genius comedy timing and uber-geek cool of Cory Feldman from the days before nerd was hip. Bassist Larry’s (Hamilton) cheeky little skinhead is the perfect cocktail of council estate intelligent wit and toughness. The band soon approach Ngig (Chamburuka), the only black boy at school, because ‘all bands need a black fella’. When Larry starts to talk slowly to him so he can understand, Ngig asks the rest of the band in a broad Dublin accent what’s wrong with their mate; it’s just pure teenage-naivety comedy gold. At this point Sing Street has all the initial makings of the classic teenage boy movies of the eighties; it sweats Goonies and Stand by Me from every pore and it is impossible not to be sincerely excited by how the film is developing.

However, and it’s a big however, there is a huge paradigm shift halfway through, at which point The Goonies hideously mutates into Dawson’s Creek. The rest of the band woefully become silent session musicians as Cosmo witnesses the fragile, lost little schoolgirl magically reappearing from behind Raphina’s make-up as it is wiped away in extreme close-up. The two lovebirds then become so utterly soppy that it’s surprising they can still stand upright with such a complete lack of bone mass. Lazy derivative romantic comedy then rears its ugly head as the two poignantly consider their own shortcomings and struggle with their need to be together. It is such a crying shame that the pace, vibrant humour and strong supporting characters are all abandoned in a single instant. Imagine if Chunk had decided to abandon all that Goonies adventure nonsense to go off with Mama Fratelli for a coffee and spent the afternoon in a meadow musing lost opportunities and the bleak future of unrealised dreams. It really is that much of a disappointment.


The one utterly unforgivable ingredient of Sing Street is how absolutely terrible the music is. When the band first start out, they sound like a crap school-band mash-up of all their influences (The Cure, Joy Division, Duran Duran) and it is wonderful in that innocent adolescent sonically challenged way. The sheer unreserved excitement of young members of a band producing something vaguely coherent in their mum’s front room will be beautifully romantic to anyone who has been in that situation. When Cosmo goes flat, he makes up for in passion. Anything out of time is masked with great hooks and melody; just how it should be. After a few rehearsals however, the drummer is playing complex triple paradiddles, the bassist has morphed into John Paul Jones and Cosmo seems to have horribly mutated into Olly Murs. Suddenly the artistically gifted imperfections of Ian Curtis and Robert Smith vanish in an instant. And here lies the film's major problem; take any self-realising successful underground musical genre and throw in a trained drama-school singer to gain teenage bums-on-seats and what do you get? You get McFly. And how many McFly’s does the world need? Zero. It’s possible that if you have no romance in your musical life or just don’t care about such things, it may not affect how you view the film and you will hopefully be all the better for it. If this kind of corporate mechanical creative demolition irks you in the slightest, Sing Street will rapidly start to annoy.

Sing Street eventually makes such a complete hash of itself that it is genuinely anger-inducing. With more balls and less of an eye on the Friday night wine-and-chocolates market, it could have had the makings of real cult classic, yet it dumbs itself down and panders to an easy demographic which will ignore its initial majesty. It feels like a truly sad lost opportunity.

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