Make the small, independent film “Sing Street” a 2016 surprise word-of-mouth hit. Adults, tell teens. Teens, tell adults. Everybody tell everybody that this is an entertainment with heart and substance. With no pretense of being an important film, it has just the right mix of contrivance and pith.
When economic downturn in 1985 Ireland puts a home-breaking strain on parents who weren’t doing too well by each other anyway, son Conor gets plunked into a “free” lower-class high school. Things do not start well for him in this rougher setting, until a shy brand of boldness hops on a nerd train to sweet horizons.
Think John Hughes films about teenage tribulation (“Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club”) with the Hollywood sheen left out. Although it’s fair to call “Sing Street” a formula film, it doesn’t run neat and slick through its paces of overcoming downer circumstances and daring to become your own person. The refreshing tone gels with something that this story calls “happy sad.”
Of course, there’s the boy meets girl thing. The guy is cute. The girl is pretty. Neither is obvious material for movie magic, but genuine qualities in both – including teen flavors of maturity -- work well amidst a buzz of effectively stereotypical characters. Next to budding romance, there’s an endearing version of creativity burgeoning. You experience the process of Conor (dubbed Cosmo by the girl) and a new found friend, Eamon, writing their first slate of songs.
Along the way, the older brother helps pave Conor’s way with some world and music wise guidance. While you’re enjoying the film, watch for something that seems like an intentional homage to “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” It’s a choice bit of vitality by the brother that punctuates the final scene.
Writer/Director John Carney went to school at Synge Street in Dublin, Ireland. He was in a 90s rock group called The Frames, and he wrote some of the songs in the film. Carney also wrote and directed “Once,” another music driven film set in Dublin. Fine couple of films, “Once” and “Sing Street.” See both.