Wednesday, August 10, 2016
REVIEW: SING STREET
With his parents on the verge of divorce, his adjustment to a strict new school going less than stellar, and his entire country in financial turmoil, Conor is having a rough time. When an aspiring model named Raphina enters his life, in a moment of pubescent over-confidence, Conor asks if she would like to be in a music video for his band. The problem is, he has to start a band.
I wasn't in the room when John Carney pitched SING STREET, but I imagine it went something like this: "What if THE GOONIES was about sensitive, artistic kids?" If SING STREET had come out my junior year of high school, it likely would have been one of my favorite movies of all time. As it stands, SING STREET is one of the best movies I've seen all year, and probably the best musical I've seen since Carney's own ONCE.
The movie has all the charm of the 80's coming of age tales you love, but also treats the period with a clear-eyed hindsight that can only come from decades of being removed from it. SING STREET takes place in a kind of heightened reality, but has its protagonists face real world issues. These kids don't have easy lives, which is precisely why they need music, it's a pressure release valve.
While most of the screen time is dedicated to Conor and Raphina, just below the surface, the film is telling a deeply affecting story about brotherhood. Conor's older brother, Brendan, acts as his guide through the jungle that is family, school, and rock stardom. Jack Reynor evokes a Seth Rogen-esque vibe and presents his overly idealistic salvos as nothing but gospel to his bright eyed protege. Reynor plays Brendan with a heap of pathos and he gets a moment to shine beyond his "always right" mentor role later in the film. The rest of the band members are all memorable and great in their own little ways, coloring in the edges of SING STREET while never being too overpowering.
The thing that makes SING STREET really pop is, of course, its music. John Carney made a deliberate choice to have the band play original songs save for an adorably awful cover of Duran Duran's "Rio" at their first rehearsal. These songs are GOOD. Sure, they're a little too good for a group of dweebs without a ton of musical ability, but the passion and energy they bring to the songs more than make-up for the required suspension of disbelief. We are living a world desperate to prey on 80's nostalgia, and SING STREET manages to take place in the era everyone's talking about while still being as original as it possibly can be given this limitation. It's great, and I think that along with the excellent STRANGER THINGS, the case for inspiration over adaptation has been thoroughly settled.
Artists thrive on collaboration, and John Carney's depiction of artists creating art together is uncanny. I love writing, but being able to collaborate with folks is aces. There's no feeling better than releasing a podcast out to you folks and knowing that my co-host(s) and I have CREATED something together. It's obvious Carney also loves this process, and even when things in the film aren't the most compelling (there are a few lulls) he's able to hit the reset button with another jam session or video shoot.
SING STREET is wonderful and charming and shouldn't be missed. There's a great urgency to the film that can only happen with teenagers. Us squares and olds are too pre-occupied with bills to go doe-eyed into the unknown expecting greatness for no other reason than having tried, but the kids of SING STREET thrive on that attitude. 2016 has been kind of a strange year for movies, with lackluster blockbusters (there's a band name) and indie darlings getting completely overlooked by the masses, it's hard to tell what will be remembered when the dust settles. SING STREET is worthy of being remembered. And while it likely won't take any little golden dudes home for its directing and performances, I think its message will always be urgent and timeless.