The 1980’s is the current craze. Both Eddie the Eagle and Sing Street take great pride in harking back to those halcyon days of big hair, electro-pop and cups of tea (Even this weeks X-Men: Apocalypse is set in the same period).
The loss of Prince, David Bowie and Michael Jackson recently, reminds us how all three existed together in the 1980’s. In 2016, we don’t even have one artist that comes close to these titans of music. Was there something special happening in this era that, only now, we can pick apart? Sing Street recreates a world that’s more than a distant memory – it aches to bring it back. As it closes, you only wish that you could travel back too. But it’s much more than repetitious nostalgia and is a powerful, uplifting tale of passion and performance instead.
In Dublin, 1985, after his family suddenly becomes poor, Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is forced to move schools. Joining the rougher Christian Brothers, it’s a harsh break and he has to court the bullies that infest every school. But with the help of a new, artful dodger pal (Ben Carolan), and the promise of a girl (Lucy Boynton), he decides to set up a band to escape this bleak reality. Inspired by his cool, hippie-haired brother (Jack Reynor), Cosmo learns his Duran Duran from his Joy Division, and sets out to start writing songs to woo the girl from across the road. Made up of a likeable motley crew, in addition to Cosmo, ‘Sing Street’ includes Eamon (Mark McKenna) – who can play pretty-much every instrument, Ngig (Percy Chamburuka) – possibly “the only black lad in Dublin” – and a pair of local chaps (Conor Hamilton and Karl Rice) who play bass and drums. Together they create music and, with the help of Raphina – the girl from across the road – they make music videos.
The messages are loud and clear. Do what you love and don’t look back. Music is an escape from reality. But director and writer John Carney refuses to make a cookie-cutter family story. Sing Streethas a dark reality, between the abuses children can fall victim to, to bitter parents on a fast track to divorce. These aren’t thrown together and instead effortlessly lift the story to greater heights. Cosmo isn’t the only child going through his parent’s rough patch and his brother, Brendan, becomes the rock he can depend on. Through a scene-stealing performance from Jack Reynor, their relationship is the emotional heart while the love interest is shaped to reflect more about Cosmo himself. One particularly tender moment is as the kids dance to Hall and Oates ‘Maneater’ as the parents argue outside. As Carney decided in Begin Again and Once; though there is romance, the story is never primarily about whether they’ll “get together” by the end credits – it’s about the music.
When watching Sing Street, it’s perhaps inevitable to think of U2. Eamon feels like he is channeling a young Edge while, as the boys film a video on a beach, their entire look could be pulled directly from the ‘October’ album sleeve. But it’s not U2, and this is what’s truly wonderful about Sing Street; it borrows from the era liberally to make something original. A key theme that resonates deeply is how these aren’t musicians by ‘natural’ talent or about feeding a desperate desire for fame and fortune. Any biopic finds it difficult to drop the shackles of the musicians “genius”. These kids love music and want to be happy. It may be a surprise, but not everyone thinks this is worth aspiring to. In his fashion and in his words, Cosmo imitates those he adores, like Spandau Ballet, The Cure and The Jam. He’s not a genius so he’s one of us. This element of truth is what makes me punch the air at the end and embrace the story whole-heartedly. It’s inspiring, passionate and a lot of fun and Sing Street will become an instant hit – I’m already booked to watch it again.
This was originally written for Flickering Myth