Being a teenager sucks. Good thing there’s rock ‘n’ roll to see you through.
“Sing Street,” the latest from Irish auteur John Carney (“Once,” “Begin Again”), nails the nexus of adolescence and pop music better than any movie since “The Commitments.”
This story of Dublin teens throwing together their own band — and of the beautiful but troubled girl who inspires it all — is goofy, tuneful and romantic.
And in its leading man, 16-year old Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, “Sing Street” may have the year’s most appealing newcomer.
The time is 1985 and Ireland is in the crapper. There’s widespread unemployment and any young person hoping for a decent future is planning a move to England.
The economic realities are inescapable for young Conor (Walsh-Peelo). His fiercely bickering parents (“Orphan Black’s” Maria Doyle Kennedy and “Game of Thrones'” Aidan Gillen) are out of work. They’ve had to yank Conor from his upscale high school and transferred him to the much cheaper Synge Street School, a hotbed of juvenile delinquency run by sadistic clerics.
There’s but one bright spot in all this. Each morning a gorgeous young woman sits on her stoop opposite the school, puffing on a fag as the wind lifts her teased hair.
Her name is Raphina (Lucy Boynton), and she says she’s an aspiring model. Conor is immediately smitten. Raphina seems impossibly sophisticated, sexually experienced and wholly unattainable (in fact, she’s only 16, a year older than our protagonist). But Conor finds the courage to approach her and brazenly suggest that she appear in the music video his band is making.
Th only problem is that he doesn’t have a band.
Though rooted in a tangibly gritty environment, “Sing Street” doesn’t let hard reality get in the way of its fantasy. Not only does Conor overnight recruit five fellow students as players, his yearning for Raphina inspires him to write songs — catchy, clever, straight-from-the-heart tunes full of pop potential. (Common sense tells us the odds against these kids sounding like anything but an out-of-tune calliope are huge, yet we eagerly buy into their almost instantaneous musical savvy.)
Writer/director Carney, who drew upon his own teenage years for the yarn, has a fine time dabbling in Conor’s musical influences — everything from the tunefulness of Duran Duran to the dark edge of Joy Division.
At the same time Conor and his bandmates glom onto the outer edges of rock fashion, emulating Boy George and Adam Ant with eye makeup, big hats and coats and poofed ‘dos.
This is all good escapist fun, but Carney doesn’t let us forget the miserable situation in which so many Irishmen found themselves in the mid-’80s. Stealing his every scene is Jack Reynor as Conor’s big brother Brendan, a college dropout who dispenses sagacious life lessons between puffs of weed and whose future is hopelessly grim.
It all goes to reaffirm Carney’s place as the king of little movies with big hearts.