Monday 16 May 2016

Sing Street

Oh God, it's all coming flooding back. I was in the third year, she was in the sixth form. I was besotted. It was pathetic. She knew real men, seventeen years old with hair everywhere. What chance did I stand? I was fourteen and may as well have been made of air. So I became a rock star, and naturally she fell for me and we ran off together and lived happily ever after.

I suspect I wasn't alone in this experience (even the entirely fictional last sentence); certainly writer/director John Carney knows what I'm talking about, which is why he's very kindly made a film about our joint obsessions. Sing Street is that film: a nostalgic glance back at the glorious mid-1980s, its life-shaping music and the heartbreak of being catastrophically incapable of getting off with a fit sixth-former.

Improbably-named newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays our surrogate, Cosmo, dumped into a new school with no friends and immediately bullied by a potato-shaped moron. Into this bleakness - which is somehow still funny, because John Carney doesn't do realistic bleakness - shines Raphina (these names, man), a stunning, untouchable older girl sculpted from equal parts starlight and hairspray. Carney's fantasy begins the moment Cosmo approaches Raphina and asks her to be in a video for his band's new song: the first fantasy being that there is no song yet, nor even a band; the second that any boy in Cosmo's position would surely have sooner spent the rest of his school days peering over a book at Raphina in the distance than actually attempting to talk to her.
Still, that fantasy is Sing Street's biggest pull - it's the story you wish could have happened to you (OK, me), and that wish-fulfilment drives it through a series of genuinely hilarious scenes, fuelled by some of the 1980s' great standards of carefree pop. More enjoyable, though, are the original songs Cosmo's band toss off with suspicious ease (Carney's fantasy extends to the kids becoming slick musicians and songwriters after spinning a few Cure LPs): the Duranesque 'The Riddle Of The Model' slots into the era as if it's always been there, while the infectious Hall-&-Oates-meets-Busted pop of 'Drive It Like You Stole It' accompanies the greatest dream sequence I've seen for yonks.

That sequence is also notable because, despite coming across like a rousing climax to the band's story, there's a whole other act left to unfold in which Cosmo and Raphina determine their fate. It's to John Carney's credit that he purposefully structures his film so as not to focus on the relationships between the band members but to celebrate the naive optimism of young, stupid love. The cruel side of the music business belongs in a more downbeat sequel, just as the hinted-at darkness of life in a catholic school is drowned out by the unstoppable power of a heart-stopping bass riff or synth line.
Like last week's Everybody Wants Some!!, Sing Street also concerns itself with a young man's search for identity, and one of its best running gags sees Cosmo turning up to school each week with a fresh hairstyle and makeup regime based on whoever he saw on Top Of The Pops last night. Freedom of expression and rebellion against authority also figure strongly, as you'd expect, and while these themes court accusations of cliché, Carney brushes them aside with a delightful cast, a soaring soundtrack and a succession of pop videos that recall the madcap antics of Flight Of The Conchords.

Carney dedicates his film to brotherhood, and Cosmo's relationship with his big bro (Jack Reynor) is undeniably heartfelt and endearing. But to me - poor, brotherless me - Sing Street is more powerful in its offer to let me spend a couple of hours in an alternate universe where that third-year kid plucked up the courage to chat up the hot sixth-former and became a rock star in the process. I can only hope that in that universe, the other me is equally enjoying a film about a short-sighted, balding film blogger and thinking how great it would be to be him. Well sorry pal, only one of us can live this dream.

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