Fellow kids of the ’80s, here’s the first John Hughes movie in a generation.
No, the late Hughes didn’t actually direct “Sing Street” – the Irishman John Carney, of “Once” fame, did – but not perhaps since Cameron Crowe’s perfect “say anything…” has a film evinced the same kinship with smart and sensitive teenagers, the same empathy for a first love that feels like the most important thing in the world, the same understanding of how adolescents use music to set themselves free and to convey feelings too unfamiliar and strong for the spoken word. It’s what Hughes might have turned in if he’d been asked for a Dublin-set teen romance with original songs.
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays Conor Lalor, the young hero and Carney’s admitted alter ego. His parents are both divorcing and economizing, necessitating Conor’s move from private to public school. Across the street from his new school lives the brunette Raphina (Lucy Boynton), not much older than Conor but vastly more sophisticated, a self-described model who assures him she’ll be leaving for London soon. Conor hears only violins. He asks her to star in his band’s new video, an interesting approach considering he has neither a band nor any music, but when she agrees, he gets to work on both straight away.
Conor’s not your typical great looking lead, but then again Hughes’ never were. They were always more interesting than that, square pegs whose hair wasn’t quite right or who were too introspective (ok, too bright) for the insouciant life of the cool kids. Conor dyes his bangs blond and makes his face up androgynously for Sing Street’s videos and their big gig at the senior prom. Carney has pulled off the extraordinarily difficult task of writing catchy songs (the soundtrack’s a must) that sound like five Dublin lads might have put them together on notebook paper between classes and on the weekend.
“Sing Street” takes you right back to the mid-‘80s, when a girl with big hair could fill the screen like nobody else. Boynton beautifully captures the excitement and allure of Raphina to Conor as well as the vulnerability and sadness of a young woman playacting at adulthood. Does she know in the recesses of her heart that her future will not be the one she’s so confidently averred? Special mention should also be made of Jack Reynor as Conor’s older brother, music maven and love doctor Brendan, and of Mark McKenna, a ringer for a young John Cusack, as Eamon, Conor’s game bassist and closest friend.
This is the sort of movie where you stay for the closing credits because, like Cinderella, you don’t want the spell to break. Strangers made friends exiting the theater, sharing the joy “Sing Street” had brought us. It’s as soulful as your favorite John Hughes movie, wistful and sad yet full of the optimism of youth. If your heart muscle hasn't moved much lately, buy a ticket and put it back in use.