Sing Street

For F*** Magazine

SING STREET

Director : John Carney
Cast : Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aiden Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Ben Carolan, Mark McKenna, Percy Chamburuka, Conor Hamilton, Karl Rice, Ian Kenny, Don Wycherly, Lydia McGuinness
Genre : Drama/Musical
Run Time : 1 hr 46 mins
Opens : 28 July 2016
Rating : PG13 (Brief Coarse Language)

Sing Street posterAfter a brief sojourn into Hollywood glamour, writer-director John Carney returns to the green, green grass (and cigarette butt-strewn alleyways) of home with this musical comedy-drama.

It is 1985 in inner-city Dublin and Conor Lalor (Walsh-Peelo) is the new kid at Synge Street CBS, having switched schools due to his family’s financial difficulties. Conor’s dad Robert (Gillen) and his mum Penny (Doyle Kennedy) are constantly at each other’s throats, Conor’s elder brother Brendan (Reynor) and sister Ann (Thornton) caught in the crossfire. In the hopes of impressing Raphina (Boynton), an aspiring model on whom Conor immediately develops a crush on, he forms a band. The enterprising Darren (Carolan) positions himself as the band’s manager and introduces Conor to talented multi-instrumentalist Eamon (McKenna), who begins to collaborate with Conor on writing songs. Roping in other Synge Street students, the group calls themselves ‘Sing Street’, with Raphina becoming the star of their music videos and their makeup artist. With input from Brendan, the band experiments with looks and styles as Conor runs afoul of principal Brother Baxter (Wycherly) and comes to terms with his affections for Raphina.

Sing Street the band rehearsing

Carney’s calling card is 2006’s Once, the breakthrough indie sensation that was eventually adapted into a stage musical which swept the Tony Awards. As alluded to earlier, Carney hopped the pond for Begin Again, set in the L.A. music business and starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine. Sing Street strikes a happy medium between the grainy guerrilla filmmaking of Once and the glossy polish of Begin Again. The coming-of-age tale is a straightforward and familiar one, but is told with boundless conviction and earnestness. Synge Street was Carney’s boyhood alma mater, and it’s abundantly evident that this is a heartfelt personal project. Sing Street’s spirited optimism is tempered with honest observations of how young Dubliners were migrating en masse to England in the 80s, fearing their lack of prospects back home. The phrase “feel-good movie” is wont to induce an eye-roll or two, but Carney doesn’t so much melt away the viewer’s cynicism as disintegrate it with a blowtorch.

Sing Street the band performing Riddle of the Model

Carney recently came under fire for his unflinching criticism of Knightley, saying “I’ll never make a film with supermodels again.” He’s since apologised for those comments and in the light of that, it seems Carney is more at ease working with relative unknowns. In Walsh-Peelo, he has found an endearing star brimming with “aww shucks” charm. There’s nothing phony about Walsh-Peelo and in portraying Conor’s tentative steps in his journey of self-discovery and through the garden of young love, the actor never overplays Conor’s awkwardness. That said, it’s rather convenient how Conor goes from guessing at guitar chords to a fairly proficient lead singer and guitarist pretty much overnight.

Sing Street Lucy Boynton and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo

Audiences have become all too painfully wary of the “manic pixie dream girl” trope, so rest assured that through Carney’s writing and Boynton’s winning portrayal, Raphina is very much an actual character. Instead of being an icy unattainable trophy, Raphina quickly becomes invested in Conor’s musical endeavours and the romance between the two unfolds in an idealised yet believable fashion. Reynor may have come off as a generic pretty-boy in Transformers: Age of Extinction, but as the disaffected ne’er-do-well who disguises his love for his brother in snarky aloofness, he is the bearer of the film’s most emotional moments.

SING STREET

Sidekick/wingman duty is shared mainly among Carolan’s Darren and McKenna’s Eamon, and cheesy though it may sound, there’s an irrepressible joy to be had in seeing like-minded friends join hands in pursuit of a common dream. Gillen’s presence is a mite distracting to anyone who can’t see him as anyone but Game of Thrones’ Littlefinger. It’s also a bit of a missed opportunity that Doyle Kennedy, a singer-songwriter who broke into acting with The Commitments (to which Sing Street has been favourably compared), doesn’t get to break into song herself.

Sing Street walking

The nostalgia that permeates Sing Street is justifiable at every turn and it never feels like Carney is invoking beloved 80s pop culture hallmarks just for the sake of it. A large part of the movie’s appeal can be found in its cultural specificity, but the story’s bell-like resonance transcends any such boundaries. Songs from Duran Duran, The Cure and Hall & Oates populate the soundtrack, sitting alongside original compositions by Carney, 80s pop composer Gary Clark, Northern Irish rock band Relish’s Ken and Carl Papenfus as well as Graham Henderson and Zamo Riffman. Adam Levine co-wrote and performs the song Go Now, for this reviewer at least, his involvement undercuts the authenticity somewhat.

Sing Street the band posing

Oddly enough, Sing Street reminded this reviewer of Super 8: both films are coming-of-age tales revolving around artistic pursuits, affectionate throwbacks to a bygone era infused with nostalgia. Instead of B-movies, the kids here are making their own music videos, and it’s served with more potatoes and less alien monster mayhem. Reminiscent of John Hughes’ work in the best possible way while also proudly and unmistakably Irish, Sing Street is a joyous ode to being young and foolish.

Sing Street the band posing 2Summary: This heartfelt tale of music makers and dreamers of dreams will put a song in your heart and a spring in your step.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Begin Again

For F*** Magazine

BEGIN AGAIN

Director : John Carney
Cast : Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, Mos Def, James Corden, CeeLo Green, Catherine Keener
Genre : Drama, Romance
Opens : 3 July 2014
Rating : NC16 (Coarse Language) 
Running time: 104 mins
Lovin’ a music man ain’t always what it’s supposed to be, and that goes for the music men behind the scenes as well. In this musical romantic comedy, Mark Ruffalo plays Dan Mulligan, the down-and-out exec of music label Distressed Records, who has an estranged wife (Keener) and daughter (Steinfeld). While drowning his sorrows at a bar one night, British singer-songwriter Gretta (Knightley) catches his attention and he immediately sets about getting a hold of her so they can collaborate on a record. It turns out that Gretta’s long-time boyfriend and songwriting partner Dave Kohl (Levine) has strayed after letting stardom get to his head. Gretta tries to leave Dave behind as she, Dan, her best friend Steve (Corden) and a motley crew of session musicians embark on recording an album on the streets of New York, guerrilla-style.
            Begin Again, formerly titled Can a Song Save Your Life?, is written and directed by John Carney of Oncefame. The micro-budget Irish indie flick became a cult favourite after netting a Best Original Song Oscar for Falling Slowly and was adapted into an acclaimed musical running on Broadway and the West End. Begin Again can be seen as Carney “going Hollywood”, trading in a cheap video camera for a fancy Red Digital and having Hollywood names and pop stars in the cast. While Begin Again is certainly a glossier, slicker affair, it still retains a good measure of earnestness and sweetness and is sure to appeal to fans of music movies. In what might be somewhat meta commentary, the theme of “indie vs. big record label” crops up. There’s also a rather surprising bit of anti-product placement: Dan takes a sip of Pepsi and wonders aloud “God damn, how do people drink that?!”

            Many of the elements in Begin Again can be described as “formulaic” – there’s the maverick music producer who has been reduced to an unkempt mess but who gets a second wind upon discovering an ingénue, the disapproving ex-wife and the rebellious daughter and the ingénue’s unfaithful rock star boyfriend. An early scene has a frustrated Dan tossing demo CDs out of his car window, fed up with inane pop and in search of “real music”. However, the film does possess enough self-awareness such that it doesn’t drown in a morass of clichés and that there’s a still a soul to it. Carney also has a little fun with the structure of the first half of the film, starting in medias res before rewinding to the start of that day, telling the story from Dan’s point of view – and then rewinding further and telling it from Gretta’s. There’s also a wonderfully whimsical moment of visual invention, when upon first hearing Gretta sing, Dan begins to imagine possible arrangements for the song; the piano, drums, cello and violin sitting on stage suddenly playing by themselves in his imagination.

            Mark Ruffalo is pretty much scruffy-sexy incarnate. Once again, he looks like he badly needs a shower and a shave, but perhaps that is part of his charm. He convincingly essays a man who has fallen on hard times but who clearly once had drive and inspiration, and when that returns to him he comes alive again. Keira Knightley’s role was originally intended for Scarlett Johansson – while we don’t get the Hulk and Black Widow making sweet music together, Knightley is a perfectly acceptable substitute. Her singing voice is very pleasant and she consciously avoids turning Gretta into an idealised “manic pixie dream girl” type. When she says “I’m not Judy Garland off the greyhound bus looking for stardom”, this reviewer believes her – but wants to see her make it in the music biz all the same.

            When it comes to the casting of established singers like Adam Levine and his fellow The Voice coach CeeLo Green, it’s a Catch-22 situation: on one hand, having actual musicians in your music movie gives it credibility but on the other, it can be distracting enough to pull one out of the experience. Green’s appearance in the film is more tolerable because as hip-hop star and old pal of Dan’s nicknamed Troublegum, he could well be playing himself. However, Levine is not a brilliant actor and this reviewer happens to find his high-pitched whine of a singing voice somewhat grating. We’re also 90% sure that the name “Dave Kohl” is some kind of a dig at the similarly-named Foo Fighters frontman.


            Begin Again is a great date movie because it isn’t yet another a production line rom com and it never becomes unbearably cheesy and sappy. It won’t redefine the music flick genre, but it does have its share of sweet moments. The songs, co-written by New Radicals frontman Gregg Alexander with Danielle Brisebois, Nick Lashley, Rick Nowels and Nick Southwood, Once star Glen Hansard and Carney himself, are all very listenable if not especially memorable or catchy. And this is quite possibly the first movie to make splitter cables seem like very romantic objects.
SUMMARY: Begin Again’s formulaic elements are offset by its measured sweetness and charm.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong