(Best sung to “The Riddle of the Model,” see the video at the bottom, and yes, I know the original lyrics are better)
No life is ever perfect.
It doesn’t play along.
How will we ever surf it,
Except to sing a song,
A song with inspiration
In everything we love and hate.
It’s pleasure and frustration
But in a musical debate.
It’s called creativity.
It’s all the work of the human heart.
Few if any can see it from the start.
Won’t let it fall apart.
Can you see
The origin of genius?
MPAA rating: PG-13
Would it be wrong to say that the 1980s had the best music? Sure, there are plenty of modern favorites I have, but it’s amazing how many great songs originated in that decade that has become a bastion of nostalgia of late. It is that music scene of Duran Duran and U2 that is the backdrop for Sing Street, the humble origin story of an Irish high school band clearly inspired by everything ‘80s music did well.
Though young Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is forced to move to a different Dublin school, where he must put up with bullies and a cold-hearted principal, he goes out on a limb to invite the lovely aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton) to a music video shoot. All he needs then is a band, which he cobbles together from schoolmates and talented acquaintances with surprising ease. Despite some growing pains, it’s clear they’re more talented than your typical garage band, and the music becomes a sort of escape from the oppressive futility of his dysfunctional home life and unpromising future.
In several respects, Sing Street brought to mind Cameron Crowe’s 1970s-set Almost Famous, another film with a great soundtrack of classic tunes. Raphina may not be as enigmatic as Penny Lane, but Conor is just as taken with her as William was in the earlier film, though in this case Conor gets an actual romance. In addition, Conor’s brother bears traces of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in Almost Famous, with his musical snobbery and creative encouragement. (For the record, I do enjoy Phil Collins music, no matter what Conor’s brother says.) In particular, both films seem to capture a love for the music of the times and a sympathy for the imperfect fellows who develop and appreciate it, sharing that same love and sympathy with the audience.
True, there are things I wish were different, such as the ambiguously optimistic ending scene and the typical caricature of the vilified priest as the bad guy. Nevertheless, there’s a lot that Sing Street does right, especially the music, from background songs courtesy of Genesis, Spandau Ballet, and many more to original hits that sound like they could have been plucked from some unproduced 1985 album. The band’s efforts at producing music videos are as low-budget but quirky as any number of ‘80s videos, while a dream sequence concert of the original song “Drive Like You Stole It” is the marvelous high point of the film and perhaps the musical high point of the whole year. Honestly, I hope it wins Best Song at the Oscars, however unlikely that seems.
Besides the music, the characters feel real, likable, and worthy of support, with Conor especially growing in confidence and even rightly treating the school bully first with indifference and then with compassion. Above all, there’s a certain artistic thrill and satisfaction to watching these young people experiment and create something that’s actually, surprisingly good. With the talent on display, the hopes for their future are implicitly high, and I can easily imagine Sing Street, both the band and the movie, being the object of fond nostalgia in years to come.
Best line: (Raphina) “Your problem is that you’re not happy being sad, but that’s what love is, Cosmo— happy sad.”
Rank: List-Worthy (tied with Almost Famous)
© 2016 S.G. Liput
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