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Rated 3.02 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Play It Loud
by Adam Hakari

The importance of music in our lives can never be overestimated. It's a force that entertains and educates us, teaching us about the world at our earliest stages and helping punctuate all manner of memories along the way. Writer/director John Carney understands the power melodies hold, having made it the focus of his films Once, Begin Again, and his latest work, Sing Street. While the production carries a bit more polish than his previous stuff, Carney's instinct for relating how music effects us remains keen nonetheless. One can easily imagine Sing Street turning out to be some insufferable coming-of-age drama using a familiar soundtrack as its shortcut to validation, but fortunately, the results are more sweet and genuine than that.

Dublin, 1985. Irish youth and adults alike are taking off to start new lives in London, but Conor Lalor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) isn't so lucky. Between being stuck at home with his warring folks (Aiden Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) and getting transferred to a strict new school, life isn't looking so hot for the lad, until the day he meets Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Struck by the young woman's beauty, Conor invents a little white lie about needing her for a nonexistent band, which he sets about forming for real on the double. With the help of fellow teenage misfits, Sing Street is born, a rag-tag crew that starts out aping the style of whatever artists Conor's stoner brother (Jack Reynor) is teaching him about lately. But with each new song, our boy comes closer and closer to discovering his own voice, inspiring him to seek out happiness in his life -- even though reality isn't always working in his favor.

Sing Street's greatest strength lies with its ability to circumnavigate the tired tropes that so often stand in the way of enjoying tales of this kind. We've all seen movies where some kid's innocent crush leads to a snowballing series of fibs, encounters with cartoonish bullies, and performances of beloved pop tunes that mistake stirring up nostalgic memories for legit depth. There's some of this in Sing Street (as well as a couple slightly anachronistic soundtrack cues), but because they don't pan out completely as expected, we actually dig the people rehashing them. Conor doesn't simply fast-talk his way into Raphina's affections; he puts in the work immediately after realizing what he's done, going about bettering things not only for himself but for his classmates, too. The songs his band tears through are blatant riffs on the work of such contemporary artists as Duran Duran and The Cure, but they're presented as stepping stones, little nudges towards helping the kids come to terms with their true selves on and off the stage.

Carney also shows skill in crafting Sing Street into his most comedic work yet, while retaining a fairly grounded sense for drama. Opportunities to eat up time with tangential narrative goings-on (a la Conor's bickering parents, a potentially abusive priest, etc.) pop up throughout, but they're often sidestepped with sardonic dialogue that still acknowledges the gravity of what's happening. Carney's love for somewhat over-the-top gestures does make itself known during the flick's last couple scenes, though these scenes come from a good place and don't rattle the relative realism he's built up otherwise too much. But the glue holding Sing Street together is the talented young cast, who make it a veritable breeze to cheer on the characters they're playing. Walsh-Peelo has solid comedic timing and subtle dramatic chops, while Boynton brings dimension to a role that'd be written off as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in less capable hands. Perhaps more time could have been allotted to developing the film's other members, but we get amusing performances from these kids all the same, especially Ben Carolan as the band's diminutive videographer and Mark McKenna as its jack of all trades.

Sing Street's soundtrack is liable to conjure warm feelings within viewers by itself, but its charm fortunately extends much further than just hit '80s singles. Its quality writing and acting cement it as the real nostalgic deal, not dismissing the past with an overly dour wave of its hand but not so deluded that it thinks weird clothes and make-up were what the decade was all about. A nimble balancing act of a film, Sing Street earns all of its beats, be they musical or emotional.

 (Released by Anchor Bay and rated "PG-13" by MPAA.)


                                                                                                                                                                               
 
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