REVIEW: Sing Street

30 04 2016

As a grade schooler attempting art, you must first ape someone else’s style and form to find your own voice. Just look at the early writings I published as a 16 or 17-year-old here on this site; the reviews read like cookie-cutter English class essays crossed with the humanistic approach of Roger Ebert. While those might make me cringe a little, the same concept playing out in John Carney’s “Sing Street” just made me smile.

The latest film from the writer/director of “Begin Again” once again follows the frustrations and joys of musicians’ creative process. Admittedly, the characters in “Sing Street” make for less obnoxious subjects since they are so young and somewhat innocent. Young cherub-cheeked Conor (first-time performer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) forms a band as a survival mechanism at the Jesuit high school which he is forced to attend, shielding him from bullies both among his peers and in the administration. With little musical knowledge other than what he picks up secondhand from his burnout older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), the premise is ridiculous – and Carney treats it as such, packing the opening scenes full of humor.

The film ultimately evolves into something a little more “happy-sad,” as the band’s muse Raphina (Lucy Boynton) would say – just like adolescence itself. “Sing Street” shows the joys of experimentation, identity play and self-discovery through the rich aural and visual diversity of the 1980s music scene. What were sonic seedlings in Richard Linklater’s 1980-set “Everybody Wants Some” become a full garden in which the characters of “Sing Street” can frolic.

The original songs, inspired by seemingly every musical movement of maturity by 1985, pile on the charm. It’s too bad the script hits rather familiar coming-of-age and frustrated teenager notes. Even so, I left the theater singing the tunes and checking to see if the “Sing Street” album was available on Spotify. I’ll be jamming to these long after I forget the plot details. B2halfstars

REVIEW: Begin Again

2 07 2014

Begin AgainJohn Carney’s “Begin Again” was first screened for audiences under the title “Can A Song Save Your Life?”  An interesting question, to be sure, but perhaps not the right one … or at least not the one preoccupying most viewers.  Their biggest question is (or ought to be), can these songs save this movie?

The answer is, well, not exactly.  “Begin Again” flaunts some pleasant ditties, including a few from Maroon 5’s Adam Levine (great for boosting soundtrack sales) and several from the surprisingly smooth pipes of Keira Kinghtley.  But they are rather breezy and generic tunes, not quite the game-changing classics Carney and his film make them out to be.

While I’m not a music critic (and do not intend to masquerade as one), I do feel that I can comment on how the tracks are incorporated into the film with relative authority.  And in “Begin Again,” the songs play out rather like music videos, with the one exception of Knightley’s strikingly beautiful opening number about isolation in the Big Apple.  Furthermore, they never reveal anything about the characters participating in their creation (see the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” for a masterclass).

These songs reflect the larger issue with “Begin Again,” which is that it provides a surface-level treatment of just about everything it touches.  Carney occasionally proffers a profound musing on music, both its art and its commerce, but never really explores them fully.

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