Sydney Film Festival Review: Sing Street (Ireland, 2016)

Rock & roll conquers all in John Carney‘s latest film, Sing Street, where the young and introverted Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) starts a band in order to impress a girl (Lucy Boynton). It’s to the film’s credit, however, that this is only the spark that sets off the movie and there’s a lot more going on here than just a love story.

Sure, it’s a coming of age story for Conor but everyone in the film has their own journeys and moments. Conor’s musical endeavor opens the door for him to find the friends who allow him to settle into his new school. His friendships with Eamon (Mark McKenna) and his brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) help foster Conor’s musical talents and with them, a sense of self confidence. Ferdia’s performance is the beating heart of Sing Street and he delivers a performance more than worthy of the piece. He does an exceptional job of conveying how Conor evolves over the course of the film.

The backdrop of Sing Street is one of both great scope and depth. It’s a snapshot of where Irish identity during the 1980s on a broader level and even more so within Conor’s tight family unit. Conor’s parents (played by Aiden Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) are under great emotional and financial strain and while their subplots don’t get the as much screentime as Conor’s efforts to win the girl, the film never treats them as less important.

Sing Street is a journey through the music of the 1980s and what it meant to the people growing up then. The film’s direction is sharp and inventive, making the most of the Irish scenery at the film’s disposal. What’s more, everything is layered with pain-staking detail that makes it feel authentic. Character dress and talk period-appropriately but refreshingly, Carney’s script bring an almost-modern energy to the characters. He sells them as real relatable human beings and not old-fashioned caricatures.

On a more sonic level, the music in the film uplifts these production values. Alongside the classic rock and punk music (Duran Duran, The Cure, Motorhead, Joe Jackson) used to set the tone, the original music on the soundtrack is also used to great effect. What’s more, it evolves over the course of the film. as Conor and the others become more proficient at actually making music, their songs become less about what sounds good, developing more depth and meaning in context of their lives and experiences.

From its beautifully-simple opening vignette, it’s clear that Sing Street is a film that knows exactly what it wants to be. There’s a remarkable sense of purpose and depth to everything here – if you’re willing to look for it. And even if you aren’t, Sing Street makes for great viewing nonetheless.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Sing Street screened as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival.