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« Cannes's Latest Booing Victims | Main | Happy Birthday Grace Jones »
Thursday
May192016

Who or what is the MVP of "Sing Street"?

Sing Street, the latest film from our most musician obsessed auteur John Carney, has been expanding with more theaters each week at a fairly strong clip. Six weeks in, there's no expansion (a very crowded weekend) but its fanbase keeps growing exponentially as more people "discover" it. Like Carney's previous music-based indies, the Oscar winning, transcendently low-fi Once and the more mainstream but surprisingly rewatchable Begin Again, whatever you might want to say about Sing Street an adjective that could safely and accurately describe all three films is "endearing"...

This music-heavy story of a motley group of Catholic schoolboys in impoverished 80s Ireland who start a band, is something of a shaggy dog movie. Parts of it are awkward and unkept: the older brother character, played by Jack Reynor, feels like a screenplay construct rather than a human being despite the film's obviously heartfelt dedication "to brothers"; the repetitions feel important until you're impatient from the running time (which is shorter than it feels given the film's simplicity); and even maybe the overly "happy" ending doesn't strictly work. But, here's the joyful thing  - when you fall hard for someone or something, like a movie, you accept their flaws. After a while they don't feel like flaws so much as "character quirks" if you've gone head over heels.

Not long into the movie -- though I wish I didn't think of blogging while movie-watching --  I thought "I'm going to write about the amazing songs by and how they keep improving from utterly derivative funny 'pastiche' ("The Riddle of the Model") to lively imperfect but earworm ready hits ("Drive It Like You Stole It") as the boys get better." But then I became distracted.  "Oooh, I have to write about Ferdia Walsh-Peelo's lead performance. He's so watchable and authentic that he's totally selling this traditional character arc like Conor (nicknamed Cosmo) is a living breathing boy who is just attending school and trying to find himself and probably hasn't even though about 'character arcs' before unless he was writing a paper for English class in his previous posh school"

You see where this is going dear reader. Then I'd quickly moved on to the costumes (Tiziana Corvisieri) and makeup and hair department (Barbara Conway) and how well they charted this shuffle-play search for identity in ways that felt totally DIY like the kids dressed themselves, raided family closets and dyed their own hair without any money. After that I was on to the interesting way the film, which is entirely about boys, doesn't feel exclusionary and myopic but instead looks at its two central women with utter fascination. Even though the film doesn't pass the Bechdel Test, the women aren't ever truly reduced to "love interest" (Lucy Boynton) or "mom" (Maria Doyle Kennedy) as they would be in lesser films but come across as real people with interior lives, just interior lives that the boys aren't able or maybe quite willing to grasp. Partly that comes from the performances, but mostly that's just another symptom of John Carney's joy in storytelling and "Happy Sad" (to quote the film) understanding of people. It's easy to spot in the way he shoots actors, never forgetting that people beyond Lead Character exist and might be delightful to get to know if we had more time. Frankly, this indiscriminate curiousity and love for people, warts an all, is something that too few directors seem interested in cultivating. It makes Carney's pictures breathe in uniquely joyful and romantic ways. 

In short I genuinely loved the film, despite its visible flaws, and I could never settle on what I had to say about it. So I mostly just read Daniel's review and nodded. So I turn it over to you. If you haven't seen it yet GET TO THE THEATER. But if you have, and with its abundance of riches, did you ever settle on what your favorite thing about it was? 

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Reader Comments (14)

I saw Sing Street last weekend and absolutely loved it. For me, the MVP was hands down the music, as with all of Carney's movies. He has an uncanny knack for matching music to mood in a way that evokes the perfect emotion. I've had the soundtrack on repeat since I saw it.

May 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJonny

Single favorite thing is difficult. Favorite song: "Drive it like you stole it".

Even the film's flaws are fascinating - it wasn't until the film made a joke about how the brother never seems to leave the house did I realize that I had NO idea how that character spends his time off-screen. And that ending! I respect how absolutely bold it was, how romantic and hopeless and mad. I won't forget the moment when I realized that it borrowed obvious symbolism from an earlier monologue, expanded that same metaphor, was set to an original Adam Levine song, and STILL entirely worked on me.

May 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

Saw it yesterday. First half I was thinking: this is decent but maybe forgettable. Second half I was head over heels. Favorite parts: the elaboration on the family dynamic (the bit about the mom on the back porch is heart-breaking, as is the brother's big "with a machete" moment--especially since I'm a youngest. The only miss here was forgetting about the sister by the end.) Favorite sequence was the transition from the awkward gym dancing to full back-to-the future throwback. "Drive it like you stole it" has been stuck in my head all night. Loved the ending, just wish the cgi had been more convincing. But like you said, absolutely flawed and beloved.

May 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

I'm finally catching up to it this weekend! You can just imagine the inevitable stage version already.

May 19, 2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

Seen it three times. Absolutely head over heels for it.
I absolutely adore "Drive It Like You Stole It," but I've become a huge fan of Eamon. He's such a fun character (The rabbit in the slow motion shot) and I wish he was in the movie more.

May 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterchasm301

Honestly, I've been thinking a lot about this very question since I saw it this weekend. And I've come to the conclusion that the real MVP is the casting director - every actor is so perfectly cast in each part and while the script is fine, without this exact cast, I don't think it would work as well. It's not just Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, who so easily makes Conor feel like a real human being. And it's not just Lucy Boynton, who is so effortlessly charismatic. It's the entire cast, each of whom brings great color to their part, and the chemistry between them.

Oh, and the music. It's all great, but "Drive it Like You Stole it" is the best.

May 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I totally agree. The film has flaws: the ending, the underdeveloped supporting characters, its predictable plot points. But like you I was so swept up by the film as a whole that I can overlook and even accept its flaws. The MVP's are the performances of the young cast, especially Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna as Cosmo's enigmatic and talented songwriting partner. The songs are phenomenal. My personal favorite is "Girls," which I've been listening to a lot since seeing the film. I really hope "Sing Street" builds enough word of mouth that a larger audience sees it.It's that great.

May 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

sorry, this is completely off-topic but i never brought it up before, did anyone else get uncomfortable at the amount of times white people said nigga in tangerine (Errr...im black btw)? i mean the two main characters werent even telling them to stop what was that about? it was great otherwise but still kinda weird to me, this very white director having these white people say nigga like its all good. i mean at least when QT does it there's some historical context or his characters are racist assholes, and race wasn't really that big of a forefront issue in tangerine so it just struck me as strange. im not even that offended by the word by comparison to some, but i wanted to kick that wigger's cultural appropriating ass. took me out of the movie a bit.

May 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterkris

Denny -- good choice and great point. I think this is an inevitable nominee in Best Casting for me by year's end.

Chasm201 - Eamon! "Why rabbits?" "I just like 'em"

cat baskets -- yeah. now that you bring it up the sister being barely there does not support my view that the film cares about the girls, too. (sigh)

May 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I think the movie definitely cares about the mom and Raphina. With the sister the arc (or lack thereof) actually worked as a subtle commentary about gender in 1980s Ireland for me: the brothers day dream about escaping through art, the sister has to remain grounded and focused on being an architect to imagine a future different from her mother's. After all, even Raphina, who wants to give it all for her art, feels strongly that she needs a guy to get her to England. Perhaps the sister knew the likely fate of girl artists, so nearly lived by Raphina (used and/or homeless). I wish they returned to this more concretely--but I do think it's there, and for me adds to the brother's "I cut this path for you" speech. It's not only youngest children who have more opportunity and license to dream and act, but also boys generally. The boys definitely got their tendency to dream from their mother, which makes her story all the more tragic. The fact that the brothers are content to merely ridicule their sister for "giving up" indicates that they don't "get it" but I think the movie gets THAT.

May 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

So glad there's lots of love for this movie. As I commented in a previous post, Walsh-Peelo and McKenna did a Q&A after a screening I attended, and while it could be their Irish gift of gab, the whole theater fell in love with them again. Both are my MVPs.

May 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Saw it this week. Loved it. Had the same thoughts about the costumes also. So great. I feel if there's an Oscar nominated song it'll be the Adam Levine one at the end instead of Drive it Like You Stole It which I would prefer.

May 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph W

The music was great, and a lot of fun. Once was his crowning achievement in that category. The movie altogether was great, but Mark McKenna (Eamon) was a huge surprise as the musical mastermind. "Rabbit stuff" had me in stitches. He drops a line with such talent for someone with so little experience.

May 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterChris K

I love how brash, assertive, and damn near cocksure Conor is. It's a surprise to see this kind of ostensibly familiar character (meek, displaced teenage boy in hostile environment) take such an uncompromising stand against all kinds of inequity and outright villainy, not only rejecting it but launching a project to actually transform it. From the very first scene of him being tormented he's already resisting - this only grows throughout as he corrals his ragtag group. Even if it's not in reference to sexuality, there is a queer subtext in the way Conor and the boys defiantly reclaim various demeaning agents, from the very name of their band being a variant of their parochial school to the "Brown Shoes" number that co-opts the image of the despotic headmaster. Carney gives these kids such power, in a self-consciously romantic way to be sure, but he believes in it, and he makes us believe it too.

May 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

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