Wednesday, 20 April 2016

REVIEW: Sing Street

Most of us were hugely affected by music as teenagers and it is a depressing fact that psychologically and physically, it never shakes us the same way again.

We find our identities, our people through music. It helps us survive tragedy, heartbreak, struggles, anger and celebrate the joys, big and small. Particular songs or bands have the power to immediately transport us to another place and version of ourselves in a way that nothing else does.

The Ramones - I'm fifteen and rollerblading around my house as they blare from the speakers of Mammy's car. For three months. Just the Ramones.

Placebo - I'm in a car with my siblings and mother as we wile away lazy summer days, sun dazzling me through the windscreen and wind moving past me, back into the hot car. We're all singing along as it is the only band I like that they don't despise and I'm a pretentious seventeen year-old making everyone listen to my music constantly.

Even today, I am rarely not listening to music whether I'm walking, working, sleeping, eating - it's always there. My closest group of friends were formed through a music society I ran in university.

But, as a teenager, music made me feel connected to something bigger, like I wasn't so strange, even if I didn't feel like I fit in in the small town I lived in. The ridicule and torment I received from peers rolled off my back more readily because they simply "didn't get it". I put safety pins through my ears and wore heavy combat boots with my uniform, in defiance of the fact I was told I couldn't wear them (but my boyfriend of the time was allowed to wear his...). It solidified my independent spirit, emboldened my feminist tendencies and, in a lot of ways, made me who I am today. Yes, I was pretentious, blissfully clueless to real life and quite judgemental but foetus-Colette was an okay kid, she just had a lot yet to learn.

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Sing Street captures that period in your life so magically and perfectly; the innocence being infringed upon by adulthood, the earnestness, the endless possibilities, the dizziness (and cringeyness) of first love and the power of music. It shows how universal these experiences are as though it is set in the 80s - decades before I was a teen - I had my heart in my throat for the whole film. It all felt so viscerally familiar. It is a heady, joyous film that celebrates the music, city and decade, as well as that period in our lives, but doesn't flinch away from the less sunny patches.

The movie tells the tale of Conor, who is transferred from a fancy fee-paying school to a rougher school run by the Christian Brothers, his difficulty in fitting in and the struggles of his family - their finances, his parents' marital problems, his elder brother's stagnated pause after dropping out of college. It is in the midst of all this that he meets a girl, Raphina, and tells her he's in a band...a band which he promptly has to set up in order to impress her. At its heart, it is a very simple story we've heard countless times in countless ways but its indescribable skill in capturing this period of time, of a person's life and all the feelings that go along with it, is exceptional. There is a wonderful balance of both the ludicrousness, joy and simplicity and of the pain and difficulties of this moment in time. You cringe when you recognise things you said and did and wore and thought, you remember the sad realisations about life and difficult decisions, that appeared as if from nowhere, as well as the giddy freedom, simple joys and feckless, free-wheeling way you went about loving and living.

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The cast is made up of Irish heavy-weights and spectacular newcomers alike; from Aiden Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy as Conor's struggling parents and increasingly rising star Jack Reynor, to the brilliant and impressive emotional depth of (actually teenaged) Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and (at least believably teenaged) Lucy Boynton as the young lovers. The members of the band, meanwhile, do an excellent job as an amiably boisterous and humorous supporting cast.

Visually, the film captures the colours and tone of Dublin and the eighties well but presents them in an Instagram-like edit that makes them at once real but curated to appear, perhaps, more glamourous than either could claim to be. Basically, my lovely Dublin looks well. And, I think, for Irish people, there is always a thrill in seeing Ireland on the big screen in a way we are used to being presented America, the UK and further off, more exotic places. There's something a little magic and surreal about streets you walk past every day playing host to carefully choreographed scenes.

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Costume plays a big part both visually and plot-wise in the movie as the teenagers take on the guise of various genres, bands and trends in an attempt to find their sound and themselves. It works perfectly as comic relief throughout the movie as we are presented with 80s trends that seem ridiculous to us but, meaningfully, just seem new and cool to the kids of the tale. The unerring belief in something - that you later cringe and laugh at - being cool is a highly relatable phenomenon of your teens and no other decade is so readily and perfectly set up to be lampooned for this.

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Similarly, the music of the movie shows this exploration and discovery that is so formative in our teens. For the viewer, we are presented with a wonderful patchwork of the best the decade had to offer sonically and the band presents catchy, and sometimes utterly beautiful, tracks inspired by the chart-toppers of the time. In fact, the original songs, though a little silly on the surface at times, are actually really rather good - enough to have me still listening to them a few weeks later. And, of course, I appreciate that personal favourites of my own teens are in there as well - The Cure, The Clash, The Jam and A-HA among them.

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While I found some aspects of the tale dubious and worrying as an adult, I have not been so thoroughly charmed and taken in by a movie in a rather long time. This is one I can see myself rewatching periodically and reminiscing about the ups and downs of my own teens. I highly recommend it to anyone who adores music, Dublin or sweet movies that aren't overly challenging.


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