I just finished celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day, which is my third favourite holiday of the year, so of course my foreign movie of the month has to be an Irish one.
Sing Street is about a boy named Conor who’s growing up in Dublin during the ’80s. Things in his life are not going very smoothly–his city’s going through a depression, his parents are splitting up, and he just got transferred to a new school full of bullies and abusive teachers. But one day he spots a pretty girl across the street from his school and tries to impress her by saying he’s in a band. When she calls his bluff, he ends up actually putting together a band from among the other talented misfits at school. As the group, calling themselves “Sing Street” after the location of their school, work to find their own unique musical sound, Conor uses music to figure out who he is as a person and what he wants in life. I guess you could call it a musical, but not the type with a lot of big dance numbers or people bursting into song out of nowhere. It’s really just a movie about making music.
This movie is directed John Carney, the same guy who made Once, a similar low-key musical set in Dublin, which I haven’t seen. But I did see the stage version, and LOVED it. I’ve always wondered if that had something to do with the fact that I saw it in Dublin, during the most amazing three weeks of my life. But now I don’t think it was just a fluke, because this movie made me feel like I was right back in Ireland–albeit in a different decade. The atmosphere is perfect, from the soundtrack to the lovely city scenery to all the over-the-top outfits the kids wear.
I tend to enjoy movies about people making art. Whether it’s based on a true story or not, it’s just so much fun to watch people put their all into creating something beautiful. This movie is no exception. The kids’ enthusiasm for their music is both believable and contagious. As Raphina (the pretty girl) says right after jumping into the ocean for a music video, “You can never do anything by half.”
And it really helps that all the music is so great. The kids’ original songs blend seamlessly with the classic ’80s pop that makes up the rest of the soundtrack, and some of them are so catchy I found myself singing along.
Really, the only downside to this movie is that some of the side characters aren’t developed very well. Conor’s relationship with his older brother gets a lot of focus (and rightly so), but his sister serves no purpose in the story, and by the end everyone seems to have forgotten she exists. Which is a shame, because she seemed to have an interesting personality at the beginning. The other band members don’t get much attention either, with Eamon being the only one to get any kind of character development. Seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity.
But overall, this is an enjoyable, well-made film about growing up and following your dreams. Sure, it succumbs to a few high-school-movie stereotypes (your typical bullies, your typical useless parents, your typical bad teachers–this time of the “evil Catholic” flavour, of course), but a lot of them actually work pretty well in this movie, thanks to actors who make their characters seem three-dimensional, even with limited screen time. While I can’t sympathise with many of the protagonists’ dream of leaving Ireland (do you know what I’d give to live in Ireland?), I can certainly sympathise with their desire to make something good out of difficult circumstances and stand up to the various bullies in their lives. And while I’ve always thought of art as the best way to fight back against oppression, I also appreciate how Conor dreams of making friends with his mean teachers and bullies, rather than punishing them. Not all his dreams can come true in the real world (just how many of them do come to fruition in the movie depends on how you interpret the ending), but he’s willing to fight hard for them, and that’s what counts.
Things I had to look up:
Nothing that would impact my understanding of the story, but I did have to do some research to find out that Conor’s school, Synge Street Christian Brothers School, is a real place where a lot of the movie was filmed. Apparently it’s gone through some rough patches in the past, but is not nearly as bad today as the way it’s portrayed in the film. Also, divorce was indeed illegal in Ireland until 1995, which explains some of what Conor’s parents go through.
I’d say this is the perfect movie to watch on St. Patrick’s Day, or any other day you feel like watching a heartwarming story told in Irish accents. It’s got plenty of funny moments, plenty of tear-jerky moments, and tons of great music.