CINEPHILIA: Sing Street is nostalgic and clichéd but doesn’t give a damn about it

The boy gets the girl, and the movie ends on a happy note, but this movie so much more than just that.

You can feel the endorphins rushing to your brain watching Sing Street. It’s like the sweet-spot of a run when you only feel the euphoria, a drug trip right before the freefall, or an orgasm that lasts nearly two hours. This is superlative wish-fulfilment: unashamed, delightful, and frequently quite awesome. It’s so unabashedly earnest you couldn’t find a subatomic particle of cynicism in its genetic makeup.

Set against a job crisis and an eroding Dublin in the 1980s, a group of delightfully weird teenagers search for themselves by creating music inspired by their life in a crappy Catholic school, and their favourite countercultural artists of the time — Duran Duran, Elvis Costello, and many more. It’s an angst-ridden search for identity. If we all had to be perfectly honest, though, the whole band thing was just to get a girl and pass the time in a place that can be more boring than watching the plaster peel from their homes’ deteriorating walls.

I could tell you that the boy gets the girl, that the band nails their climactic gig, and that basically everything works out. But what good would that do you? Would you be any closer to understanding the moment where Conor, the high school band’s frontman, imagines a candy-coloured music video with a ‘50s prom? Do I need to tell you that the band nails every note in this hallucination? How about the sequence where Conor and the lead guitarist write their first song, surprising themselves with how damn good it is? How about Conor’s sloppy first make-out with Raphina, an orphaned and mysterious girl, when he goes in for a kiss while she is still chewing on a mouthful of cookies?

Sing Street transcends clichés and formulae, actively reinventing what we thought possible in our snarky and ironic times.

This film was directed by John Carney, a man whom I suspect hasn’t told a lie in his life — unless, of course, it was for the sake of graciousness. He has made two other musically-inspired films: the surprise indie-hit Once, and the totally inauthentic yet completely sincere Begin Again.

Sing Street, like two of his other musical films, has a killer soundtrack; at times it practically mounts the entire film on its airless wavelengths. All of his films are variations on familiar rhythms. There is always a girl and a boy and a band. They play music. They fall in love. They struggle, but create something special along the way.

That last part, the struggle, is just as important for Carney. He is not reducing anyone’s pain in Sing Street. He is resolving it, finding a way for his characters to heal at a time when it’s hip to be bleak. This doesn’t minimize sadness or reduce its importance. Conor’s anxieties are founded on a world collapsing around him. His older brother, who listens to records and smokes pot all day, is a victim of his country and family’s degradation. There are real problems on display here, real tragedy lurking underneath the sweet charms.

This is a great film of the rarest kind: simply beautiful, essentially perfect within its own constraints, and so committed to making you fall in love with the world, even if it only exists for the brief moments it is on screen. Sing Street is a nostalgic, clichéd, and catchy fantasy. It also doesn’t give a damn what you think about it.