by Coop Cooper
Connor, aka ‘Cosmo’ (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), an awkward middle-class kid growing up in 1985 Dublin, Ireland, receives a shock when his bickering parents (Aidan Gillen from “Game of Thrones” and Maria Doyle Kennedy) tell him they can no longer afford his education at a posh Jesuit school. He transfers to a rough, inner-city Catholic school and is immediately bullied by the students and tormented by the hard-nosed headmaster priest. He becomes infatuated with an older orphaned girl, Raphina (Lucy Boynton) who hangs around the school and claims to be a model waiting on a one-way ticket to London to pursue her career. He impulsively invites her to star in a music video for a non-existent band he sings in. She accepts and he scrambles to quickly form a band consisting of his fellow classroom misfits in order to hold her interest. He lucks out and assembles a competent cover group but his slacker older brother (Jack Reynor) insists that only serious bands write their own songs. Cosmo tries his hand at songwriting and has an exceptional talent for it, but life hardships threaten to derail his efforts and his pursuit of Raphina.
The most exceptional part of this film happens upon realizing this isn’t merely a coming-of-age story about a kid going after the girl of his dreams. At some point, it becomes evident you are witnessing the childhood of a famous rock-star in the making. The greatest of the greats had humble beginnings and once you realize Cosmo is destined to be one of them, the film suddenly becomes truly special. This could have been a plausible origin story for someone like Mick Jagger or Peter Gabriel who had to be wide-eyed and innocent and one point in their lives. It revels in the time period, echoing Cosmo’s current taste in music, starting with Duran Duran and evolving to The Cure and other sub-genres which he and his band emulate to an entertaining degree. The band begins as awkward as they look, but their inner coolness emerges with the help of Raphina’s fashion expertise and Cosmo’s uncanny songwriting ability. Their transformation is quite inspirational.
“Sing Street” starts off as a comedy, but the tone becomes more dramatic over the course of the story. It begins to touch on sensitive issues such as bullying, sexual and physical abuse, emotional trauma and some of these things become too much for Cosmo to bear, breaking him down. One of the most thrilling moments in the film happens during a gig rehearsal where Cosmo fantasizes an ideal performance in which his parents are dancing and happy, his brother has his act together, the headmaster priest respects him, Raphina adores him and everyone is having fun. This also becomes one of the film’s sadder moments when the illusion is broken and Cosmo realizes he has none of those things and must focus on his music in order to find his happiness. This is also the moment where Cosmo performs his most memorable song “Drive It Like You Stole It” which could actually be a contender for Best Original Song at the 2017 Academy Awards. This seems likely, especially considering writer/director John Carney captured the Best Original Song Oscar for “Falling Slowly” in his 2007 film “Once”.
This style of working-class English-speaking dramedy is reminiscent of underdog films like “Billy Elliot” and “The Full Monty” as well as American nostalgia films like “Almost Famous” and “Pretty in Pink”. It goes to dark places at times, but that realism elevates it above most crowed-pleasers which “Sing Street” certainly qualifies for as well. The performances are surprisingly fresh, the story is familiar yet pleasantly unpredictable and hope shines through even in the darkest moments. So far, “Sing Street” is my favorite movie of 2016. I predict an American remake of it could be imminent, but this Irish film is original and exceptional in every way. Don’t pass up an opportunity to see it. “Sing Street” is now in a limited theatrical release.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars