Nostalgia has become an obnoxious buzzword in the last few years. Overt nostalgia has often been a kiss of death reasoning behind the sort of cyclical nature our entertainment has been driven by, particularly with the extreme love for the 80s era films, music and television that has been dominated box office records with films like the Transformers film series. Sing Street is the exact type of film to break that more cynical pattern of overly pandering blockbusters, using the setting in an authentic fashion. Sing Street utilizes aspects of a time period to give its characters genuine motivation rather than merely gawk in loving memory of the past. It’s on level with writer/director John Carney‘s most consistent directorial trait: use of song, both existing and original.
Much like his brilliant musical masterpiece Once or even his middling Hollywood indie retread Begin Again, Carney crafts excellent songs to fit the individual story he’s concocting in Sing Street. Better yet in this case, the original songs from the titular band perfectly match the period with varying styles. Some of it is New Wave, some of it is Glam Rock and it even dips into the era’s own nostalgia for 1950s era Rock. Carney also taps into the then new concept of music videos for these kids to dip into, both as a nostalgic wink to the audience and – more importantly – as a key facet of our youthful lead Cosmo (played endearingly by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) creative spark. When he forms a 50s inspired music video for one of his songs in his own mind, it links the height of his vision with his true understanding of the power his song can produce when put to image. Something he carries over from his relationship with his brother Brendan (portrayed with a nuanced stoner vibe from Jack Reynor), using the knowledge of music as a connection between the two.
The familial bond between Cosmo and Brendan serves as one of many great bonds that build throughout Sing Street. Their tight relationship helps Cosmo escape from the destructive world of his home life, along with the relationship he builds with his bandmates and the mysterious Ralphina (played with wonderful nuance by Lucy Boynton). Seeing how these kids quickly form this group for the initially selfish purpose of getting Ralphina’s attention, but slowly morphing into this wonderful unit thanks to inspiration from the then-modern glow of MTV’s music videoes. These kids constantly destroyed by bullies take out their frustrations through music, with their self actualizing through a remnant of the past that seems nostalgic to the viewer serving a genuine purpose for the characters. It’s only a shame that Sing Street does lose sight of some of its peripheral bandmates after awhile. Sure, the story is still primarily about Cosmo and his search for acceptance, but the fun personalities of the other bandmates are drowned out far too early.
Sing Street is an endearing musical marvel. While not on the emotionally soul crushing level of John Carney’s brilliant Once, it still manages to give the audience more depth with its musical premise than the lesser forgettable copy Begin Again. What could have easily been an irksome exercise is empty nostalgia ends up being a celebration of creative ingenuity in period piece form. The nostalgic aesthetics that recall The Cure or Duran Duran end up being a driving force to stand out from the normalcy of this depressed Irish era, full of sad cover bands and older folks that are too wrapped up in their own bitter regret to accept the new. It’s a story truly from the perspective of disaffected youth, full of potential and growing a willingness to embarrass in order to find out what they can get out of this world. Even in an era with thirty years of separation, it still holds nuggets of inspiration that hold true. Plus, you get to see Aidan “Little Finger” Gillen dance. Worth the price of admission alone.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Riddles of the Model
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