When I was studying film at University, me and my best friend decided to start a band. We were called The Kelly Affair – a name I stole from Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls – and our influences included The Killers and Joy Division amongst others. He played guitar, whilst I wrote the lyrics and tried my very best to do a good job of singing them.
For a few months, we tried and failed to get the band off of the ground. Unreliable drummers and bassists meant that we never quite found that connection, that electricity, to make that “music-magic” happen. I’ll always look back at that time with fond memories though, and, whilst some might consider it a simple phase, there’ll always be a part of me that will wonder what could have been had we found the right musicians at the right time.
It is this part of me – the failed musician, if you like – which completely fell in love with John Carney’s Sing Street; a film which perfectly captures the thrill that comes with starting a band. For a couple of hours, I was transported back to the days of band practice, writing sessions, bad hair and make up. Connections like this happen far too often in film, so it’s no surprise that, having missed it on its limited cinema release, this should jump straight up my list of 2016’s best films.
The year is 1985. The location is south inner-city Dublin. Men, women and children are leaving Ireland by the boatload, sailing to England in the hope of better prospects. Conor Lalor is a fifteen-year-old who is forced to move school so that his struggling mother and father, a couple on the edge of separation, can save a bit of money.
Having to deal with bullies in many different forms, the move is an initial disaster. However, a silver lining does appear in the form of Raphina, an aspiring model with ambitions to move to London, who Conor one day meets across the road from his state-school. In a bid to impress her, he decides to start a band so that he can cast her in their music video.
With the help of a couple of outsiders, Conor quickly forms a band called Sing Street and Raphina gladly agrees to star in their first video. The result is one of the film’s most side-splittingly hilarious moments, as the group dress up in make up, velvet suits, frills, cowboy outfits – “What’s gay about Village People?” – and Dracula fangs.
Conor and Raphina’s relationship only grows from there, charted over the course of the film via the “futurist” sound of Duran Duran, all the way through to the “happy-sad” melodies of The Cure. Both groups feature on the gloriously ’80s jukebox soundtrack, but it’s the original music composed by Carney and Gary Clark that ends up stealing the show.
From The Riddle of the Model to Drive it Like You Stole It, the songs are surprisingly good – so much so that you can imagine the film making an easy transition to the stage, much like Carney’s previous, Oscar-winning musical, Once.
Of all the director’s work to date – I remember being rather charmed by his last film, Begin Again – Sing Street is easily his best work. As well as having a fabulous soundtrack, the writing is so witty that you’ll want to watch is again immediately after finishing it, just to pick up on some of the other jokes you may have missed when still laughing from the previous one.
With Sing Street, John Carney has proven himself a master of the modern day musical. The script is tight, the gags come thick and fast, the cast are endearing and the music works as its own seperate entity. It’s an absolute joy of a film which has a big heart – most of which can be seen in the scenes between Conor and his eldest brother, Brendan – and some uplifting messages about family, friends and following your dreams.
The final bit of icing on the cake is the fact that Carney dedicates the film to “Brothers everywhere”; a poignant reminder that, without my eldest brother, I may have never discovered a love for music and certainly wouldn’t have ever had the briefest of experiences of being in a band. It makes for a wonderful ending to what is truly one of this year’s most wonderful films.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com