Thursday, April 28, 2016

'Sing Street:' a familiar song

Director John Carney has invented his own genre, movies that gently poke their noses into social issues while building stories around young, aspiring musicians. Carney's latest, Sing Street, follows a pattern you'll find in Begin Again (2013), the movie that followed his first (and still best) movie, Once (2007).

Sing Street centers on 15-year-old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a high school student who starts a band as a means of worming his way into the life of a pretty, 16-year old girl (Lucy Boynton). Boynton's Raphina hangs out on near Conor's school, looking desirable and unattainable, an irresistible combination.

As luck would have it, Conor quickly learns to sing. He also takes on a new rocker's persona, calling himself "Cosmo" instead of Conor.

With the help of a runty manager (Ben Carolan) who happens to be a classmate, Cosmo recruits a band of kids who actually have skills.

The group begins developing what can sound like a boy-band repertoire, although sometimes its music sounds a bit more punkish. More polished than you'd expect, the music becomes the centerpiece of a mildly gritty look at Irish youth during the 1980s.

Troubles loom from the start. The movie begins with a family meeting about financial problems: Money issues force Cosmo to leave the relative comforts of a Jesuit school for a less expensive but tougher Christian Brothers institution, where he's bullied and where the head priest might be inclined toward sexual abuse.

To add to the family's money woes, Cosmo's parents -- Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy -- are going through a bad patch; their arguments occasionally can be heard in the background of scenes set in Conor's home.

Cosmo's older brother (Jack Reynor), a drop-out from a previous generation of rockers, smokes pot and coaches his younger brother. He may be the movie's most sensible character.

Troubles aside, the band's development tends to dominate the proceedings. Cosmo offers dream girl Raphina, who says she's a model, a part in a video he's shooting with the band. She agrees, and the band members gather to make videos that seem considerably more amateurish than the music they play. The band's signature song: "Drive It Like You Stole It."

Costume designer Tiziana Corvisieri gives band members -- a genial group of characters -- a succession of evolving looks that become part of the fun.

Carney has yet to match what he achieved with Once, but his commitment to a genre populated by young people with dreams proves as durable as those dreams themselves.

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