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Sing Street - review

Sing Street - review

Around 20 minutes into my viewing of the 80s-set teen musical Sing Street, something odd happened. As the first song kicked in, an elderly woman in the front row raised her hands to heaven and started dancing. Real shoulder shimmying, arm waggling, Madonna-doing-“Vogue” dancing, which she kept up through every song on the soundtrack, from The Jam’s “A Town Called Malice” to “Pop Muzik” by M.

It was a flagrant breach of the unofficial code of cinema-going conduct, but I didn’t have the heart to complain. In fact, I could hardly blame her. Sing Street is that sort of film. As a coming-of-age love story it’s charming, but as a celebration of the life-saving power of pop music, it’s pretty much unrivalled. In this, the third in a loose trilogy that began with global sensation Once and its follow-up, the largely ignored Begin Again, writer-director John Carney focuses again on musical creation and collaboration, but with a lighter touch and a lot more optimism. This is a film for anyone who found solace and hope and community in music — especially those of us who grew up in the pre-internet era, when music really was our only escape.

That sunny outlook reveals itself also in Sing Street’s storytelling. I went in expecting the narrative beats of a standard music biopic transposed onto a small-time high school band: blazing success followed by the familiar downward trajectory of jealousy, intra-band recriminations and the inevitable break-up over musical differences. At the risk of spoilers, that’s not how things turn out. The band improves, friendships are forged, and the songwriting partnership between frontman Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and guitarist Eamon (Mark Mc- Kenna) deepens. It concludes with an uplifting, if laughably far-fetched, testament to the power of youthful dreams.

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Along the way there’s a charming romance and subplots involving broken families, schoolyard bullying and lecherous priests — this is Ireland in the early 80s, after all. But at its heart, Sing Street is all about the music. The songs are good, probably far too good for a band that young, though none of them sound particularly original. And why should they be? Every great artistic career starts with a lot of clumsy pastiche, a truism Sing Street demonstrates by juxtaposing pop classics by The Cure, Joe Jackson and Hall & Oates with the “original” songs they inspire. It’s one of the cleverest details in a movie packed with authentic period references, from the band’s sweetly self-serious music videos, to Conor’s New Wave wardrobe (Nik Kershaw one day, Robert Smith the next), to the grim ubiquity of cigarette smoking among schoolboys barely out of short trousers.

It would be a shame if Carney’s recent nasty attack on Keira Knightley, his Begin Again star, tarnished Sing Street’s reception. Is it the measure of the man? His grovelling apology (“I’m ashamed of myself”) suggests not — as does this, one of the most lovable, big-hearted movies I’ve seen in a long time. I may not have been chair dancing, but I was grinning from ear to ear throughout.

Film & TV