First, kudos to John Carney for making me enjoy a movie that pays a lovely tribute to the New Romantics movement! You have to be a masterful director for making such a haunting film with such terrible bands (imo, of course) as Duran Duran, Hall & Oates or Spandau Ballet being not just your soundtrack, but a really important part of your work.
But I shouldn't be surprised. After all, Carney is the man behind 'Once' and 'Begin Again', two films that already proved he's capable of making movies about that irrepressible, life-changing & life-driving passion named music that entertain, engage and connect with all sorts of moviegoers, not just music lovers. And that's exactly the case with 'Sing Street'.
Settled in 1980s Dublin, 'Sing Street' is the story (or tale, most appropriately) of 14-year-old Conor (surprising debut by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who is not having the best of the times. His parents are on the verge of divorce. There are serious money concerns. And his new, catholic school is full of bullies, including the school's director. But after meeting the arresting & mysterious Raphina (magnetic Lucy Boynton), things are about to change drastically. He has to form a band in order to win her love... And so the magic begins.
For nearly an hour, maybe even a bit more, the film is almost, pure joy. The tunes, of course. The hilarious way in which the band gets born. How they compose the first song, 'The Riddle of the Model', that also becomes a really funny, ramshackle video, a refreshing way to talk about the arrival of MTV and the bursting videoclip culture. The imitation of music trends (where's the post-punk phase?), the aesthetics, the young bunch of kids transforming themselves in a creative sponge. The ups and downs of Raphina's heart conquest. The endless music & life talks with Conor's older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor, who steals every scene he is in). Sure, you have seen this tale before (being honest, the story development is far from original), but in such a dynamic, unstoppable way? Can't remember...
But then comes the last part of 'Sing Street', in which Carney has to take decisions. Is this going to be about music or just a romantic movie? Are the dramas (which, as usual, become bigger as the film advances) going to be dealt with, or the "feel-good" vibes are what really matters? To my view, Carney takes the easiest, most pleasing options. Subplots and secondary roles that have a lot of potential (the brothers' relationship, Brendan deserves a movie of his own) get shadowed. Others (the parents, Conor's sister) completely neglected. Even the band is somewhat "displaced" because of Conor & Raphina. Dramas are basically skipped... and then there's the final gig where all seems to fall into place. I get it: music can make the troubles go away, give us the strength and courage to take risks, be brave and fight for your dreams. But for a band looking for the "happy sad" song formula, once has the feeling Carney has decided to skimp on one part of the equation, making whe whole film look like A-ha's 'Take On Me' (and most of the mainstream 80s music): at first appealing, even intriguing... but finally bland. I won't be that harsh with 'Sing Street', because nevertheless, is an incredibly engaging, cheerful movie. But what it could have been with a bit more of punch...