When the painful realities of life come crashing at you, growth tends to follow. That’s the kind of growth that Irish 15-year-old Conor, protagonist of John Carney’s film “Sing Street,” experiences when he is pulled from his Dublin private school and thrown into the relative hell of a state-supported high school called – and here’s where Carney got the title of his film – Synge Street, spelled S-Y-N-G-E.
That name has an obvious double meaning, and it is the other meaning that becomes so important in Conor’s life. After encountering the thugs at his school, from the one that makes him dance in the bathroom to the head priest who makes him walk around school in his socks – seems his shoes don’t fit the school’s uniform requirements – Conor seeks something, anything, for emotional release.
And he finds it in Raphina, a 16-year-old beauty whom he sees standing on a stoop, looking like a glass of champagne in a sea of diet carbonated beverages. Anxious to make a connection, Conor asks Raphina to be in a video he’s making for his band. And, soon enough, she says yes. Only problem: Conor doesn’t have a band.
So he has to form one. Luckily enough, his new friend Darren is a natural enough organizer. And he leads Darren to Eamon, who can play virtually anything. Together, the three summon enough musicians to make up a band that, thanks to his older brother Brendan, Conor has been dreaming about for some time.
And dreaming is something that Conor is good at. This is 1985, times are hard in Dublin, money is tight, Conor’s parents are eternally fighting, and Conor’s only release is the music his brother plays for him – The Cure, Depeche Mode, a-Ha are just a few – and the videos that they both watch on the musical variety “Top of the Pops” show.
What happens next is fairly predictable. Conor’s parents become further estranged, his relationship with Raphina grows complicated, he has continual run-ins with the head priest, he continues to write songs with Eamon and film videos (though, truth be told, the best videos never make it out of his head). And the film builds to an end-of-school-year event at which Conor’s band – which, of course, he dubs Sing Street (S-I-N-G) – gets to perform.
Writer-director Carney is best known this side of the Atlantic for two other films: his 2007 offering “Once,” which an Oscar for Best Song, and 2013’s “Begin Again,” starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. Both films offer a blend of sweet and bitter.
Just as “Sing Street” does. Much of what occurs feels close to what Bill Forsythe gave us in his 1981 film “Gregory’s Girl,” in which a clueless Scottish boy finally gets the girl – even if the bitter is all too real, and Carney’s ending feels more fantastical than, say, an a-Ha video.
The acting, especially from Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as Conor and Lucy Boynton as Raphina, is solid enough so that while, in the end, “Sing Street” may cause you to grimace, it may also inspire you to find your own song.
Even if it’s only in the shower.