Before watching it, I a saw a piece of someone’s review of the movie, where they called it a “feel-good film.” That’s a phrase that’s hard to get out of your head once it gets in there.
Indeed, Sing Street is a feel-good film. It is a good feel-good film that is as good as some and better than most. I also, while watching it, couldn’t help comparing it with We Are The Best, which I watched a couple of years ago. They both have the same subject; teens in (for me) a foreign country who decide, under difficult circumstances, to form a band. They both take place at the same time (1982 for We Are the Best, 1985 for Sing Street, although the kids are probably the same age). But beyond that, the movies are very different.
Unlike We Are the Best, which seemed to try for an accurate portrayal of 1982 Sweden, Sing Street is more of an “80s themed” movie. It uses the cars, the music, and the recession of that time to set the stage, but it’s not exactly a realistic “period drama.” It also isn’t an accurate representation of the high school rock band experience. The Sing Street band goes from non-existent to writing and recording radio-quality pop tunes in a matter of days. While it works for this movie, it isn’t reality.
I was actually shocked to realize, at the end credits*, that the actors really did do their own music. I was sure, watching, that the music was some professional (and famous – I thought I recognized a voice at one point) singer being dubbed in. In fact, I had started to wonder if they used different singers for different styles of music. I am very impressed to see that Irish actor/musician Ferdia Walsh-Peelo actually sang the songs (although he had professional writers to create them).
So if the movie isn’t We Are the Best goes to Ireland, then what is it?
Well, its a feel-good film. The story is about a young man who suddenly finds his family on hard times and moves to a new, rougher school. He meets a beautiful girl and, in order to get her number, tells her he is in a band and they need her to film a video for one of their songs. Having said this, he now needs to form a band, write some songs, and come up with some video concepts.
The movie is a story that’s been told many times, but doesn’t really grow old. A young person, growing up in difficult circumstances, has to overcome those circumstances and find his own way. It is hard to define yourself, for yourself, but not doing so means you’ll forever be held back by those circumstances that you did not create.
The main character’s older brother, Brendan, explains the importance of a “vocation.” By this he means the meaning and purpose of a life (explicitly contrasting it with a job that does not have meaning). Driving a cab can be a vocation, says he (who never leaves his parents’ house) as can music or art. Finding your way and not being defined by your problems is how you become the person that you should be.
As is so often the case, I think the movie is really about the twenty-teens, and not the eighties. The music sounds way too modern. The bullying theme, emphasizing that bad kids are just starving for some positive attention, would not have been treated that way in an 80s movie to be sure. With its meta-references (the songs, speaking about the characters life, are reflected in the film itself), the film is very much a twenty-teens creature. Let me say, too, that the singing often reminded me more of Green Day than Duran Duran.
Also, don’t step in the plot-holes. As I said, the speed with which the band was created is a bit silly. One also might wonder how a kid who can’t afford a pair of shoes can suddenly be in possession of several Boy George outfits. I also had misgivings about the lead female character, Raphina. She’s a beautiful actress and played the part very well, but I’ve met my own “I’m going to be a model.” Let’s just say I predict that relationship is going to turn out very badly in the end.
Other elements of this movie speak to me, particularly. I was of an age, and interested in music, during this time. I had grown up listening to what we know would call “classic rock” and discovered, sometime in the mid-eighties, what we would come to call “alternative rock.” Reading reviews on Netflix, I think many fans of the movie are of a similar age and circumstance. My Raphina didn’t quite look as good as Lucy Boynton does, but life rarely lives up to the fantasy. There was also one scene, where my initial reaction was utter disbelief. At some point our main character (Conor, by the way) is confronted again by “the” bully. He defuses the situation with some existential musings about who exists in whose reality and whether existence without purpose is true existence. “Yeah, that would work,” thought I, sarcastically.
Except that it did. Somewhere around middle school, I figured out how to defuse violent bullying simply by speaking – using a vocabulary far over the heads of my tormentors. I don’t know why it worked, but it did. When they realized they couldn’t understand what I was saying (but, importantly, realized I was in fact making sense using the King’s English), their urge to violent aggression ebbed away.
The movie, and I don’t think one like this can be plot-spoiled, turns out very well in the end. The boy gets the girl, and they head off into the sunrise**, perhaps to fame and fortune. They make friends with the bully and give him a purpose. All is well, and we heard some good songs on the journey. The movie is also fun it a lot of little ways. Little bits, from details of costumes to a large number of rabbits, weren’t really part of the story itself, but made me laugh out loud as I watched.
How could anyone not love this movie.
I really like this song. It is not an 80s song.
*Another Netflix complaint I’d like to register. Like network TV, Netflix has now decided that rather than watch the credits of a movie, viewers would rather see some previews for something they might like to watch next. You can’t even enjoy the end-credit music while watching indecipherable pixels float by, because they also cut the credit sequence short when the preview is done. I don’t know why, but I’ve always enjoyed sitting through the credits when I rent a DVD or, especially, when I go to the theater. So, in this case, as I always do with Netflix streaming, I had to look up the credits on-line after the movie was over.
**The filmmaker said this scene was deliberately meant to be unbelievable – something out of a music video. He is not suggesting that Conor and Raphina will live happily ever after, or perhaps not even that they went to London in a fishing boat. He said he was surprised that the audience took it so literally.