SING STREET takes us back to 1980s Dublin seen through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy named Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who is looking for a break from a home strained by his parents' relationship and money troubles, while trying to adjust to his new inner-city public school where the kids are rough and the teachers are rougher. He finds a glimmer of hope in the mysterious, über-cool and beautiful Raphina (Lucy Boynton), and with the aim of winning her heart he invites her to star in his band's music videos. There's only one problem: he's not part of a band…yet. She agrees, and now Conor must deliver what he's promised - calling himself "Cosmo" and immersing himself in the vibrant rock music trends of the decade, he forms a band with a few lads, and the group pours their heart into writing lyrics and shooting videos.
Inspired by writer/director John Carney's life and love for music, SING STREET shows us a world where music has the power to take us away from the turmoil of everyday life and transform us into something greater. SING STREET is "an irresistible, feel-good movie", Leonard Maltin.
When the musical drama 'Once' broke out to great success in 2007, writer/director John Carney wasn't new to filmmaking. At the time, he had just barely found the specific combination of elements that resulted in cinematic alchemy – genuinely relatable characters and quality music – but he hadn't yet realized it. Following 'Once,' he made two films with different ingredients, but neither of them went anywhere. In 2013, he went back to what made 'Once' so great and applied it in a different way – and it worked! Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo made for very likeable leads in 'Begin Again' and the music was nice and catchy. 'Once' won an Oscar for it's memorable leading track and one of the grandest tracks from music 'Begin Again' earned it an Oscar nomination. At that point, is seems that Carney became aware of his unique formula for success because it didn't take long (less than three years) for him to apply it again with a great drama that tells a very different story from the others.
For 'Sing Street,' Carney went back to the basics. Set in his hometown of Dublin, Ireland in 1985, it tells the coming-of-age story of a central character that would have been Carney's same age at the time. Instead of compiling an A-list cast like he did for 'Begin Again,' the film stars a group of young mostly unknown actors with immense capabilities. And while the style of the film's original music plays off radio-hit inspirations of the time, it's absolutely fitting, a great nod and wink to the pop music of the mid-'80s.
First-time 17-year-old actor Ferdia Walsh-Peelo leads 'Sing Street' as Conor Lalor, a 15-year-old boy in Dublin who's on the brink of exiting the sheltered and naïve innocence of youth and entering the difficult, sad and unpredictable abyss of adulthood. The catalytic moment occurs just moments into the film when Conor is pulled away from playing guitar (which he's not very good at) for a family meeting. Alongside his older brother (Jack Reynor) and sister (Kelly Thornton), Conor's parents (Aiden Gillen from 'Game of Thrones' and Maria Doyle Kennedy from 'Orphan Black') inform him of the family's ongoing financial difficulties. With a depressed economy, they can no longer afford to send to Conor to his comfortable and safe school, so he'll be attending the cheaper Singe Street school. His father explains that this new school will teach him to "act manly," which – in other words – means that it's going to be a rough place.
Conor immediately sticks out as a fish-out-water in his rough and tough new boys academy. Not knowing where he fits in, this is where Conor first begins to question his identity. He has never stood out, nor has he ever contemplated his likes and dislikes. With disrest in their home, his older brother discreetly and indirectly nudges him onto the path of self dicovery and to take action to make his life his own. The first concious decision that Conor makes is to talk to the beautiful loner girl that lives across the street from his new school. Still without an identity, he approaches her and strikes up a conversation. 16-year-old Raphina (Lucy Boynton) is an aspiring model. Her plans include moving to London in the very near future to pursue her dream career. In this awkward moment of confidence, hoping to spend time with her, Conor invites Lucy to play a leading role in his band's upcoming music video shoot. Much to his surprise, she agress - but there's a problem: he doesn't have a band.
Relying entirely on the musical taste of his older brother for inspiration, Conor and his solitary friend at school start recruiting musically talented fellow misfits to join their new band. Their first feat is learning how to play as a band while covering Duran Duran's Rio. After doing so, they embark on a journey of musical growth and style that's constantly changing with each new discovery of inspiring tracks. While Conor's initial motive is impressing and winning the heart of Raphina, music and his band quickly become a large part of who he is and how he copes. Without feeling episodic, we witness the awesome evolution of this teenage band as they grow in musical knowledge – but the growth doesn't stop there. We watch as they tackle the uncontrollable real-life challenges that come at them head-on. It's very relatable. Each chapter comes with a new style of music that's typically accompanied with a music video of their making. The videos portray the fantastic perfect-world relationships as Conor wishes they could be. As we watch their film shoots, there's a blurred line between reality and the sugar-coated, perfectly edited and polished lens of the music video.
The success of many directors can be partially attributed to their repeated pairings with specific actors. Think back to the Scorcese pairings with Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, or Tim Burton's pairings with Johnny Depp. Think of directors who pair themselves with great cinematographers, like Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister or Paul Greengrass and shaky-cam. In that same way, John Carney and music are a perfect pairing. All too often, we hear critics refer to specific cinematic elements or inanimate objects as playing "characters" in certain movies – but music is absolutely a key player in the story of 'Sing Street.' And even though you make not particularly like the styles of each of the songs in 'Sing Street,' nonetheless, you're going to love the entirety of the music. With a great team of songwriting collaborators – including Glen Hansard from 'Once' and Adam Levine from 'Begin Again' and Maroon 5 – Carney is definitely going to earn a third original song Oscar nomination with 'Sing Street.'
Each member of the principal cast delivers a solid performance, but there's one supporting cast member in particular who rises above the others and gives a stand-out performance. As Conor's older brother, Jack Reynor steals absolutely every scene he's in. Whether he's carrying on a serious conversation or talking music in a Lester Bangs fashion, he'll draw your full attention. His comedic relief appearance is akin to a Seth Rogen or Chris Pratt type, but in several serious and dramatic scenes, he's intense. With the flip of a switch, he sheds the relaxed and worriless exterior for an intimate, honest and heartfelt one. I've not seen Reynor in another role, but after 'Sing Street,' I'm dying to see him in more.
(Disclaimer: My man-crush on Reynor's acting abilities is probably amplified due to his delivery of the line, "no woman can truly love a man who listens to Phil Collins," which is a philosophy that I wholeheartedly share.)
Charming, delightful, fun and surprisingly multi-layered, 'Sing Street' is a magical must-see film. Unlike many people did with 'Once,' don't wait until 'Sing Street' is adapted into a Broadway musical to finally see it. It's easily one of the best films of the year and deserves to be seen by all.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The Weinstein Company has placed 'Sing Street' on a Region A BD-50 disc, placed it in a standard blue single-disc Elite keepcase and tossed in an Ultraviolet redemption code. Forced Anchor Bay and Weinstein reels play when you first pop the disc into your player, followed by skippable trailers for 'St. Vincent' and 'The Young & Prodigious T.S. Spivet.'
When I first popped in 'Sing Street,' upon seeing the video quality of the clip-driven main menu, I was worried for the overall quality of the film. The menu footage appears with hardcore aliasing and some everpresent antiquing. Fortunately, those flaws are found in the menu footage and not in the film itself. Although the visual style of the film doesn't always allow its greatness to shine through constantly, the 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode of 'Sing Street' is fantastic.
Just like the screenplay, there's a lot happening beneath the surface of the film's visual design than you might think. The video quality of this disc allows those intricacies to resonate well. For example, up until Conor meets Lucy, the film carries the gray, desaturated look that's featured in 95% of the films set in overcast Great Britain. Before then, the only color to pop on-screen is the red of Connor's mom's sweater and the glowing locks of his friend's curly hair – but once he meets Raphina, all of that changes. She brings color to the world. Her bright make-up brings a reoccuring vibrancy from then on. The clouds literally clear and we begin to see sunlight that causes grasses, plants, trees and bushes to explode green. Fleshtones even become warm and lifelike.
Although not always aparent, 'Sing Street' features highly detailed video, but tends to unintentionally mask it through its handheld style. Without feeling like a 'Bourne' film, there's a lot of motion to the camerawork and tight up-close shots don't happen frequently – but when they do, you'll see how rich the details can be. Conor's brother and Raphina are the only two characters that tend to get close-ups. When they do, you'll see all of their facial features in high detail. Textures are prominent. Individual hairs stand out. The cinematic style deceptively doesn't allow 'Sing Street' to appear as sharp as it is at first glance, but that's a cinematography decision and not a fault of the disc or transfer.
For the most part, the imagery of 'Sing Street' is quite bright. Even the nighttime shots are well-lit, allowing all objects and people to be clearly visible. Contrast is consistent throughout, as are the black levels. There's no sign of crushing, aliasing, bands, artifacts or noise.
'Sing Street' features a very creative and amusing 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. If you're paying attention, you will find some truly unique mixing tricks that make it quite impactful. Let's start off with the dialog and effects.
The raw dialog style of 'Once' is long gone with 'Sing Street.' Now, voices are crystal clear, balanced and dynamic in range without ever becoming blown out or distorted. Even with the thicker Irish accents of some of the young actors, you won't lose a single line of dialog. Sound effects are layered well throughout, but there's a twist to them. When in a neighborhood alley, you'll hear the expected sound of chained-up dogs barking in the distance and occasional bird tweets. Likewise, city streets bring passing cars and seamless imaging – but if a music video scene is coming up, the effects tend to fade out of the surround channels to make room for the music. And there's a very cool reason for the absence of sound in the surround channels.
The film's music triumphantly dominates the sounds mixing. It's uniquely and dynamically mixed for each of the numbers. As the effects vacate the surround channels, when the music kicks in, it doesn't immediately fire off from all speakers. Instead, it will leave the surround channels free and clear. That way, when the music hits in a particularly strong moment, it floods out to the surround channels with high impact. Also, the music isn't just mixed out to two sides (left and right); it's mixed uniquely to each channel. For some songs, the strumming sounds of acoustic guitars may be heard in the surround channels, while the vocals, drums and keyboards comes from the front. With music playing such an important role in the film, it's no surprise how much attention it was given.
John Carney has become the master of a modern wave of big screen musicals that removes the instantaneous breaking into song and dance and replaces it with music as a major character within the story. He's had two such successes in the past decade, but the third time is truly a charm. 'Sing Street' is absolutely charming. It's filled with lovable characters, unexpected depth, and completely original, yet somehow familiar, '80s-esque pop music – the pairing of which makes it one of the very best films of 2016. The video and audio qualities of the Blu-ray are fantastic. The only area in which the disc falls short is special features – but it's a sacrifice worth making for a film this great. I highly recommend adding this brilliant film to your collection.