#throwbackthursday: “Sing Street” is the best coming-of-age musical ever set in 1980s Ireland

Before I quit my job at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to play at being a writer, I was a regular contributor to the Eleventh Stack blog. I was free to write about pretty much any material in the Library’s catalog. It was great! On Thursdays, I’ll revisit some of my old faves. A version of this post first appeared on September 9, 2016.

To impress a girl, Conor (aka “Cosmo”), a lad in 1980s Dublin, starts a band with the help of his classmates at Synge Street Christian Brothers School in John Carney’s (OnceBegin Again) little-seen gem Sing Street (affiliate, and below).

The film is brimming with so much cheery optimism that it’s understandable if you’d think it’s a bit too cookie-cutter cute, but it’s not. Sing Street is framed by a realism that gives way to imaginative flights of fancy, almost as if the characters are using their creative minds to cope with the impoverished life of Ireland in 1985.

Make no mistake: some dark things happen to these characters (homophobia, sexual abuse from a parent, dealing with their parents’ divorce), but they’re only hinted at, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps. And if these subtle hints fly over your head, don’t fret. Sing Street is just as great a film on a superficial level. In fact, its superficiality is what makes the film so great. It lures you in with catchy tunes and the always-vicarious starting-a-band plot and then, when you’re already completely in love with these characters, you learn more about them and grow to love them even more.

I was in a band once. Well, that’s not entirely true. For Christmas one year, a friend and I decided to make an album of Christmas song covers (like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside“) as a cheap gift. Through my friend’s outstanding mixing skills (and more than a lot of autotune), we put together something that wasn’t entirely terrible; everyone I gave a CD to lied to me and told me they loved it, even though I’m about as musically talented as a cat. We had a blast making music together. It was magical!

Arguably the best thing about Sing Street is how the film manages to capture the creative energy involved in making music. That energy comes through in each of the songs the boys create. As their skills improve and their musical tastes evolve, their songs become better and better. If you love the movie, definitely check out the film’s infectious soundtrack.

With delightful homages to great bands like Duran Duran, The Cure and Hall & Oates, Sing Street is a brilliant coming-of-age tale that deserves a spot right next to films like The Way, Way Back and Dope.

This is a multi-layered film, and one of those layers is the importance of the bonds of brotherhood – both familial and otherwise. The film even closes out with a dedication: “For brothers everywhere.” Cosmo and his bandmates become brothers through their shared passion, but Cosmo also has an older brother who acts as a music critic and introduces him to other great music. As the older brother of a crazy-talented musician, I have to admit I teared up at the end, and I want to take this moment to say if you have a talent – musical or otherwise – you should definitely use it.

I was smiling the entire time I was going back over this post. Despite only seeing this film once, I absolutely loved it. Maybe that’s why I only watched it once, because I didn’t want to taint the wonderful memory. However, now that the Library is delivering holds again, it might be time for a rewatch while I wait for the Broadway musical.

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