Rock’n’Roll is a risk. You risk being ridiculed.
Sing Street is the latest upbeat film about the power of hope, beauty and song from Carney. This would make three. His first two were Once and Begin Again. In this tale, a young school kid in 1980s Ireland starts a band in order to impress a girl he likes. It’s a ragtag affair, of course, but the transcendent power of music offers hope in many ways. A lot of people thought Begin Again, Carney’s last film, was a bit too slick; it was the tale of a bitter musician, played by a wonderful Kiera Knightley, getting back on her feet with the help of a similarly down on his luck producer, played by Mark Ruffalo. And so Carney’s back to a cast of unknowns and a more indie feeling. And the film really is quite wonderful. The first two thirds of the film in particularly are wonderful as we see the main character struggle with his parents’ fracturing marriage and his unrequited love via a constantly shifting musical identity, depending on whether he’s been listening to the Cure or a-ha most recently. The film is very, very funny and the cast is game. The standout is Jack Reynor as a wise, weed-smoking older brother and it’s the relationship between the two brothers that feels the most finished, far more so, in fact, than the romantic story supposedly at the heart of the film. Carney and his song-writing partners once again craft a wonderful song-score of original material; really, half the pleasure of a good Carney film is the brilliant music and this one has plenty of great catchy tunes, including the heart-breaking To Find You and the brilliant rave-up Drive It Like You Stole It. Carney comes under fire for his films being just rehearsals of clichés and that’s a fair criticism, but when Carney’s on top of his game, he gives the clichés such sincerity and such emotional truth that you can’t help but be swept up by them. Unfortunately, this film falters in the home stretch, just a bit, when it dons it rose-tinted glasses for the finale but doesn’t quite make the transcendent hope and beauty feel as real as it has before. Far be it from me to impugn the fine cast of this film, but maybe, just maybe, when a film tries to pull off an ending that could easily tip into the sappy and cheesy, it simply needs better actors. The ending to Begin Again, a movie I absolutely loved, is no less corny than Sing Street’s in the telling, but maybe it’s the raw emotional truth Knightley, in a career best turn, and Ruffalo, in a typically endearing, rakish turn, imbue their characters with. Maybe with better actors, this movie would have worked all the way down the stretch. Maybe not; I’m spitballing. But this isn’t as good as Begin Again; I didn’t walk out of Sing Street feeling the transcendent, heart-filling exuberance that I felt at the end of Begin Again, but I don’t want to be particularly uncharitable. The film is basically flawless for a solid three-quarters of its running time; if that final quarter begins to feel a little forced, well, even second-tier Carney is just warm-hearted enough to squelch any serious criticism. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – tale of 1980s Irish teen’s ramshackle band is warm-hearted, witty & has great music; it can’t entirely escape the falseness ofcliché at the end, but the bulk of the film is magical. 3 ½ stars.