Glasgow Film Festival: Foot-tapping dramedy from Irish director John Carney
The low-key charms of John Carney’s 2007 breakthrough Once have been somewhat trampled by the stampeding success of the associated stage show. Following his dalliance with a higher-profile cinematic production – in the shape of the US-based, Oscar-nominated, Keira Knightley-starring Begin Again – he continues the musical theme but returns to his roots for a deeply personal project that recaptures some of that earlier magic. Set in Carney’s own Dublin secondary school Synge Street (motto: ‘Act Manly’), it also plays on his history in a rock band and as a director of music videos.
‘It’s all about the girl, right?’ observes Cosmo’s older brother / musical guru Brendan (Jack Reynor) as he quizzes him on his motivation for starting a band. Our 15-year-old protagonist (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) has been moved from a posh school to a terrifying inner-city institution run by the Christian Brothers, where his rosy cheeks, wide eyes and waif-like appearance make him a target for kids and priests alike. He’s left looking for a distraction, as well as a way in with aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton) who lingers outside the school gates. Describing themselves as ‘futurists’, the resulting ragtag group prove surprisingly competent, not least once they’ve tapped into the prolific musicianship of Eamon (a likeably understated Mark McKenna).
The film has great fun with the band’s shifting look and influences – including Duran Duran, The Cure and Spandau Ballet – with their songs credibly emulating the outfits in question and producing some rousing moments. The romance goes from sweetly optimistic to a little more cloying, but there’s wit and character in their attempts at crafting music videos on a budget and the handheld camerawork and universal domestic misery – Cosmo’s separating parents, Eamon’s absent, alcoholic father, Raphina’s residence in a home for girls – keeps things gritty enough.
Newcomer Walsh-Peelo captures Cosmo’s social awkwardness and growing stage swagger, Boynton brings subtle sadness to a character who threatens to be just another manic-pixie-dream-girl and, although Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy don’t get much screen-time as Cosmo’s ma and pa their esteemed presence is felt, while Reynor is terrific. Sing Street blends relatable strife, young love and cheering acts of rebellion into a funny and foot-tapping treat.
Screening on Sat 20 and Sun 21 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2016. General release from Fri 22 Apr.