In 2007, writer-director-musician John Carney released one of those rare films that literally everyone loves. Sure, Once featured unprofessional actors and didn’t have much going in the way of plot but the music and characters struck such a chord mostly because of the unpretentious sincerity that everyone involved seemed to bring to the project.
In 2014, Carney tried to top himself in the acoustic meet cute musical genre with Begin Again, which had a considerably bigger budget and an all-star cast. Though not without its charms or hummable songs of its own, Carney’s second film about writing and recording songs just wasn’t nearly as relatable as his first effort, largely due to the presence of Keira Knightley and (worse still) Adam Levine.
Carney does his best to get back to basics, returning to Ireland with mostly unknown actors, in Sing Street. Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) has just started at a new school and, though he hasn’t made any friends yet, instantly falls for an older girl (Lucy Boynton) who aspires to be a model. Based in part on Carney’s own memories of the mid-80s, Cosmo decides to start a band inspired by The Cure, Duran Duran and Hall & Oates. For Cosmo, this project is mostly an excuse for him to film music videos starring his crush at first but the opportunity to write and play his own music soon becomes about much more. Music, he’ll soon learn, can be the perfect outlet to express his feelings about the tension between his parents, their financial troubles, and the restrictions at his strict Catholic school.
Sing Street is no Once.
Maybe that’s a good thing. While Once had a more improvised feel, Sing Street has a more insightful and considerably funnier script. (I laughed myself into a coughing fit twice and I don’t even have a cold)..It is much better acted and more imaginative. The dream sequence of Cosmo’s ideal video for Drive It Like You Stole It is my favourite scene by far but there are so many perfect moments in Sing Street.
But it doesn’t always feel like a good thing.Ironically, for a movie about the agony and the ecstasy of first love, Sing Street underestimates the attachment that so many of us feel to Carney’s first attempt at the indie-rock musical. Once may not have been perfect but it felt real. Its dialogue never distracted from the story by being either too lame or too witty, it just felt natural. With more experience and a bigger budget, he has clearly made a more polished film with Sing Street. But I prefer the rawness of his first effort.