‘Sing Street’: ’80s tunes fuel a pitch-perfect retro romance
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It used to be the ultimate 1980s romantic statement to hoist a boombox over your head. The excellent new musical comedy “Sing Street” gets more creative: Instead of blasting someone else’s love song, just write a new one.
The latest tune-filled indie film from writer-director John Carney (“Once”) is a pitch-perfect coming-of-age movie about a boy seeking his own voice and the heart of his way-too-cool-for-school muse. Carney digs deeper than the usual universal love story to comment on Irish life in 1985 and sets it to a soundtrack that hits all the right notes for those with fond memories of Swatch watches and Trapper Keepers.
What seems like a teenage version of the making-a-band movie “The Commitments” actually has more in common with a John Hughes film: Conor (newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is struggling with the stifling atmosphere of his new Synge Street boys school when he meets aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton). He tries to work his teenage mojo on the denim-clad girl, who’s mostly dismissive of him until a few decently sung bars of a-ha’s “Take On Me” and an offer to star in a music video raise her interest level.
One thing, though: Conor needs a rock group, stat. The kid rounds up a motley crew of local guys to form Sing Street, and they quickly go from marginally bad to somewhat mediocre in time for their first DIY video.
Through a series of changing outfits and musical influences, from Duran Duran to Elvis Costello, the film charts Conor’s musical and personal growth, his complicated relationship with Raphina, and an even keel kept on the home front where his family unit is threatened by divorce and a bad economy.
Bands of the time such as Spandau Ballet and the Cure play into both the music and the story of “Sing Street,” yet the tracks written specifically for the film are catchy highlights that also capture the feel of the period. Plus, Carney makes a good call putting a real singer as the headliner. Having Walsh-Peelo be a head-turning talent from the start instead of a tone-deaf underdog lets the movie focus on the more dramatic aspects instead of spending time wondering if the kid can learn to carry a tune.
Walsh-Peelo and Boynton’s chemistry fuels “Sing Street” as much as its songs, and the actor also plays well off Mark McKenna’s rabbit-loving multi-instrumentalist Eamon, the Lennon to Conor’s McCartney. Jack Reynor has a first-rate supporting role as Conor’s big brother Brendan, who proves much wiser than his slacker appearance would suggest with gems like, “No woman can truly love a man who loves Phil Collins.”
“Sing Street” is a wholly appealing genesis of teenage romance and music-group therapy for one Irish boy and a instant retro classic for those still hungry like the wolf.
The Weinstein Co. presents a film written and directed by John Carney. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements including strong language and some bullying behavior, a suggestive image, drug material and teen smoking). Opens Friday at local theaters.