Once

Sing Street

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22/05/16

Films about pop music are notoriously hard to do; many directors have fallen by the wayside when trying to put such a concept together, but John Carney has already pulled it off twice, first with the delightful (and appropriately named), Once, and more recently with the criminally underrated Begin Again. So can he really hope to do it a third time?

The answer is, unreservedly, yes. Sing Street just might be his finest effort to date, even though the setting, theme (and one particular member of the cast) will inevitably draw comparisons with The Commitments.

In 1980s Dublin, troubled teenager Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) finds himself withdrawn from his private school and thrown upon the tender mercies of the Christian Brothers, on nearby Synge Street, after his parents’ relationship begins to fall apart and the family fortunes are hit by the deepening recession. At the new school, Cosmo experiences bullying at the hands of some of the older kids and more upsettingly, by the obnoxious Brother Baxter (Don Wycherly) who rules the place with an iron cassock. However, a chance encounter with the enigmatic Raphina (Lucy Boynton) gives Cosmo some new purpose in life, when he impulsively invites her to appear in a video for ‘his band.’ One small problem there – he doesn’t actually have a band yet – so, without further ado, he seeks out interested parties from around the neighbourhood and they set about rehearsing the songs that Cosmo has written in his bedroom.

Anybody who has ever played in a teenage pop band is going to relate to this, but then again, so are a lot of people, because this is heart-warming stuff about youth and ambition that pretty much anybody can enjoy. What Carney does better than just about anyone else is to follow the creation of a song through from those first amateurish noodlings, to the finished product, making it all seem wholly credible and entirely uplifting. Even Cosmo’s imagined Back To The Future fantasy works an absolute treat.

There’s a fabulous running joke, which has Cosmo and his band listening to the latest pop sensation, only to end up dressing exactly like them in the following scene, while the original songs written by Carney, Gary Clark and Adam Levine are catchy, but simple enough to make you believe that they actually could have been written by a teenager. There’s also a wonderful relationship between Cosmo and his older brother, University dropout Brendan (Jack Reynor) which goes to the very heart of the story.

Whatever you do, find time to go and see this charming film – it’s an absolute corker.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

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Begin Again

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13/07/14

Writer/director John Carney is, of course, the man who created the phenomenon that is Once. Begin Again, is basically a better-heeled version of the same story. Man meets woman, they make a record together, the lyrics of the songs reflect on the story.

So, not exactly a stellar jump for Carney but one that nonetheless has charms of its own. Mark Ruffalo is Dan, an independent record producer who’s career has taken a nosedive after the breakup of his marriage to Miriam (Catherine Keener). One night, drunk in a club, he witnesses a song by singer/songwriter Greta (Keira Knightly) and decides he wants to make an album with her. But she too is damaged goods, having recently been dumped by her partner, Dave (Adam Levine) a self-centred musician currently making a meteoric breakthrough into the big time. Against all the odds, Dan and Greta manage to record their record live on the streets of New York…

OK, leaving aside the sheer impossibility of actually doing that, this is an entertaining movie that demonstrates a real understanding of the current music industry. Knightly makes more than a decent fist of performing the songs (anyone who saw her in the Edge of Love will already know that she can carry a tune) and the ‘will they. won’t they?’ relationship with Ruffalo cooks up some fair chemistry. The scene where Ruffalo visualises the production he’s going to do of Greta’s song is fabulous and probably worth the price of admission alone. This is a entertaining film, but next time out, Carney is definitely going to have to spread his net a little wider.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney