It’s a familiar story, but Sing Street’s an irresistible tale of perseverance, boy meets girl and rock ‘n’ roll.
Dream Out Loud
It’s 1985 Dublin. People are leaving in droves, emigrating to London. Many of them are packing nothing more than dreams of fortune and glory, of forming a band and scoring a record deal.
Think of Alan Parker’s fantastic adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, only set in high school. And instead of Dublin Soul, it’s Dublin Pop.
And also think about the very real U2. The lead characters almost look a little bit like a young Bono and Edge. U2 also started out not knowing how to play any instruments, dreaming of escaping the poverty of down-and-out Dublin and fantasizing about going to London to get a record deal.
Tying it all together, Bono and The Edge are among those thanked during Sing Street’s end credits. They are proof points buffering the observation of one T. E. Lawrence, “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.” That chap is better known as Lawrence of Arabia.
What to call this band, this salute to the future of music, inspired by the likes of Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Joy Division and The Cure? How about The Rabbits? Maybe La Vie?
Or how about playing off their school’s location, Synge Street? Sing Street!
And what a dour place Synge Street is for inspiration. It’s also a very real place, but as those end credits note, it’s advanced to a much more pleasant and progressive place in this modern age.
The 1980s schoolmaster wears a dress-like robe, but chastises our young hero, Cosmo (newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo in quite a special debut), for wearing makeup. He also admonishes Cosmo for wearing brown shoes. As dictated in the student guide, all students must wear black shoes.
Shame, then, about Cosmo’s family finances. There are no funds to supplement the new brown shoes with a new pair of black shoes. The parents are splitting up. Mom (Maria Doyle Kennedy, The Commitments) is having an affair, to further sour matters.
Big brother Brendan (Jack Reynor, Macbeth with Michael Fassbender) is in some respects the story’s soul. He’s a young man with dreams that have gone poof, up in smoke with the pot and other substances he’s inhaled. Once a trailblazer, Brendan’s now one of the masses who’s lost sight of his dreams. But he’s there to guide young Cosmo in the ways of music and women. At times he sounds a lot like Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in Almost Famous.
Among Brendan’s pearls of wisdom, “No woman can love a man who listens to Phil Collins.” Okay. That’s a bit strong. But he also advises Cosmo about rock ‘n’ roll being a risk in itself, that it’s not about playing the instruments correctly, it’s about not playing the instruments correctly.
Here’s to the Future!
Among the obstacles the band named Sing Street must face down are that stern schoolmaster, the lead school bully and an older boyfriend who’s the center of attention for sweet, but not-so-innocent Raphina (Lucy Boynton, Miss Potter). Raphina’s the girl in the love-at-first-sight part of the story. Cosmo’s immediately smitten and rallies together a band in order to have a reason to make a music video, with Raphina as the star.
Writer/director John Carney has fashioned a strong resume in the world of music-based movies. He’s the mastermind behind Once (now also a hugely successful stage musical) and Begin Again.
Here Carney mines the treasures of ‘80s pop and nails spot-on the tone of those early days of music videos, when big hair, lots of makeup and completely random onscreen visuals made for a sexy concoction marrying the visual with the aural.
And as Cosmo faces down one obstacle after another, suffers disappointment, embarrassment, angst and abject poverty, it’s nearly impossible to not cheer him on – and also polish up and renew those dreams in the dusty recesses of the mind.