By Richie Angel
“Rock ‘n’ roll is a risk. You risk being ridiculed.”
Tripling its budget with a modest $13.6 million box office—less than half of one percent of Avatar’s record—Sing Street tracks the coming-of-age punk-rock path idealized in School of Rock, but this time, the kids are doing it themselves. The result is a heartwarming, “happy-sad,” and endearingly Irish film that earned a best picture nomination at the Golden Globes. “I fought the law, and the law won” – but not for long.
Conor “Cosmo” Lawlor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a futurist in 1985 Dublin. When his quarreling parents can’t afford his education, or even a pair of black shoes, Conor is sent to Synge Street, a stuffy Catholic school whose motto is “Act Manly.” Conor soon meets self-proclaimed model Raphina (Lucy Boynton), whom he invites to star in a music video for his band, which does not exist. Inspired by the rock-‘n’-roll tutelage of his dropout older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor), and aided by the motliest of crews, “Cosmo” bucks social norms on a quest to create something that will last forever: art.
The structure and composition of Sing Street are simple, but done unusually well. Several basic choices stand out against a moviescape that’s increasingly devoid of intentional filmmaking. For example, color: the mysterious new girl wears blue; the frame pops with green when the band forms and young love blooms; a daydream bursts with warm reds and yellows, only to cut abruptly back to the cold blues and grays of reality. Solid fundamentals then leave room to explore complex themes, like how to honor the past while chasing the future. Bandmates reference Thriller and Back to the Future but reject nostalgia. The film inhabits its setting, but a disclaimer assures that Synge Street “was a very different place in the 1980’s than it is now.” More centrally, a has-been older brother cuts a path for a futurist younger brother, who literally sails into the future. The older brother drives him to the boat, and he celebrates.
The music of Sing Street is “no nostalgia. Not like your dad’s band.” Cosmo has a new influence and a new style every day. The songwriting is collaborative and authentic, and the ultimate virtue is the courage to be original. “It’s all about the girl, isn’t it?” asks Brendan. “And you’re going to use somebody else’s art to get her? Are you kidding?” But originality stands on the shoulders of giants, which is why the film fits its dedication “For Brothers Everywhere.” This is for the ones who came before: the brother who passed on his dream and rejoices when you pursue it boldly; the bandmates who trust you to go on without them, paving the way; the first gig that might have been your last; and the pain than can only be done justice by articulating it truthfully.
Sing Street offers rock ‘n’ roll as protest, as escape, as art, and as a heritage of soul-bearing sincerity. And that’s why every musician should watch Sing Street.