Starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo. Rated PG
A former bass player for the Frames, writer-director John Carney broke into another league with Once, a no-budget, Oscar-winning musical featuring bandmate Glen Hansard. Carney’s bland follow-up, Begin Again, had Keira Knightley and Adam Levine as singer-songwriters in New York. But the music-minded filmmaker is on surer ground in Sing Street, with his own Irish upbringing viewed through wish-fulfillment goggles.
Set in 1985, the film is named after Dublin’s Synge Street, location of the crappy Catholic high school attended by 15-year-old Conor, played by talented and oddly named newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo. Conor’s sent there, instead of a posher Jesuit school, by battling parents (Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy of The Commitments, which this resembles). They’re struggling to support a brainiac daughter (Kelly Thornton, hardly seen) and an older son (American Jack Reynor, with an iffy accent) stuck in the nest.
Of course, the new kid is bullied by students and even tougher teachers; there’s more than a hint of sexual violence coming from the head priest (Don Wycherley). But our plucky lad’s laser-focused on the aloof beauty he spies across Synge Street. This would-be model is allegedly one year older, even if actor Lucy Boynton actually has six years on the kid. But this is one of the lesser implausibilities as Conor puts together a band to impress her.
He instantly comes up with a batch of catchy, era-appropriate tunes, all written by Carney and Gary Clark. Too bad the love story obscures the other characters; the group’s one black member (Percy Chamburuka) chides the rest on first meeting for their racial stereotyping—and then doesn’t speak for the rest of the movie! What Sing gets delightfully right is the fashion side; with every new LP or video (from Joe Jackson to the Cure), Conor shows up with a new look or song. The only influence he missed was Prince, and now we can all say that.