John Carney has a truly sentimental touch that doesn’t make you want to throw up, which is harder than you think to pull off, especially in the movies, and especially now, when cynicism and hyperawareness rue the day (see Deadpool). Sincerity is uncool, and it takes a special kind of deftness to make you want to embrace it. After three films that unabashedly celebrate the uncoolness of genuine excitement, love and the things that make you happy (namely music, the creation of it and how that leads to the former), I think we can add Carney to a list of people that includes directors like Frank Capra and Cameron Crowe.
The truth is I’m a sucker for the feel good, and although Sing Street has more in common with the Hollywood gloss of Carney’s last musical Begin Again, than it does the gritty, low-budget authenticity of his breakthrough Once, it’s no less an absolutely delightful coming-of-age comedy that is so enjoyable in its energy, charisma, acting and original music that it’s impossible to resist smiling from ear to ear all the way through it. This time, Carney goes back to his native Ireland for a story set in 1984, about a teenage boy who kind of knows how to play the guitar and wants more than anything to make music videos like those of Duran Duran, be in a band and get the hell out of Ireland. Oh, and to impress the local girl he has a crush on as well.
Conor lives in a crowded flat with his sister, parents and twenty-something brother who he idolizes, and who spends his time lecturing him on the talents of various 80’s groups (this is a true love letter to that era) and what constitutes “good” music. The brother is played by scene-stealer Jack Reynor, who seems to have an awful lot in common with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s rock critic Lester Bangs from Almost Famous, a film that seems to have inspired quite a bit of this one. Conor decides to ease his transition to a strict, oppressive Catholic school by collecting a group of outsider classmates like himself to form a band so they can help him gain the attention of the beautiful, damaged Rowfena (Lucy Boynton). The boys’ back and forth is hilarious and the casting so spot on as to immediately recall the natural chemistry from great past movies about teen friends like Stand By Me or Dazed and Confused (think of the middle-schoolers in that one).
When you describe a movie like this- teenage boy in a band, wants to get the girl, faces bullies at school, problems with his parents, etc., it sounds like the repackaging of every coming of age cliche in the book. But with a touch for genuinely funny dialogue, moving familial and friendship relationships, a brisk pace, and light but affecting performances, this is exactly the kind of feel good movie that I challenge anyone to dislike. And I haven’t even mentioned the other standout factor in this film- the original music. Carney teams up with 80's composer Gary Clark and others (including Adam Levine again) to craft a score composed of a half dozen original songs that are so good they sound as if they must have been pulled straight off a 1980’s soundtrack album. Add to the mix an already stellar list of 80’s hits, and the effect is a wonderful combination of pure joy and nostalgia that will leave any viewer satisfied. Again, I promise that you will love this movie and feel better after having seen it. It’s a sugar rush for audiences, minus the resulting toothache.
* * * 1/2