Maybe you're living in my world. I'm not living in yours.

Maybe you’re living in my world. I’m not living in yours.

What is the true power of music? Those of us who love it – really love it – like to talk about its so-called “power”. You’d think we were talking about Frodo’s ring or something. But just what is it about music that gets us in a tither? What can great music truly do?

In SING STREET, it’s Dublin in 1985 and Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is an Irish teenager like many others. His parents don’t make much money and don’t even like each-other much any more. Home life is so mixed-up that Cosmo is about to be put in a less prestigious school to save a few coins on tuition.

The new school comes with both a new stern headmaster (Don Wycherley) who seems to have it out for Cosmo almost from the drop, and a new bully that has it out for him just moments after that. However, it’s not all bad news. The new school also presents new friends, such as young Darren (Ben Carolan). The lad is the first to point the school’s new arrival towards a girl who hangs out across the street – an aloof beauty named Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Quickly smitten, Cosmo makes a beeline for her (despite Darren’s warning that she never has any interest in boys who attend the school).

Cosmo does some quick-thinking when he discovers Raphina is a model and asks if she’ll appear in his band’s music video. She agrees. All that’s left to do is Cosmo to actually form a band.

Soon enough, thanks to the encouraging of his new friend and his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), Cosmo is able to both pen a few not-terrible songs and rally  some of his schoolmates to the cause. He gets some help from his best ally Eamon (Mark McKenna), and no help at all from the school headmaster and bully…but slowly notes become phrases and phrases become songs. The boys listen to a lot of The Jam, The Cure, Duran Duran, and A-Ha, fuelling their own creations to sound like a delightful mish-mash of it all.

But will it be enough to get the girl? Enough to rise above his station in down-on-its-luck Dublin? Enough to cross that beautiful sea and find possibility on the other side?

 

Raphina in SING STREET

 

Like both of John Carney’s other movies, SING STREET believes that a song can save your life. Few directors have declared their love for music as boldly as Carney has, and audiences are all the richer for it. Besides its potential to give even the meekest voice a very loud microphone to express themselves through, music has the power to bring people together. Carney seems to understand that as much as a new catchy ditty can turn the trick, so too can a quick dose of an old favorite.

Only a true lover of music can infuse this into their work so readily, and three films into his career, John carney continues to do so. Just hours before I sat down to watch this film, I learned that rock & roll had lost a true legend. One hundred minutes later, I was smiling despite myself.

That’s the power of music, and the beautiful brush a music lover can paint with.

In the middle of SING STREET, there’s a bold declaration made by Cosmo. As he’s approached by Barry for his regular engagement as the target of bullying, Cosmo declares that his tormentor only has the power to stop things and not to create. This moment should be the rallying cry for anyone who has ever been bullied in their lives. After all, it’s through creation that we leave any mark that we were here…it’s through creation that we are able to reach anyone outside of our immediate vicinity. There will always be those who wish to tear things down, but eventually they will run out of things to tear down. If we believe in making something out of nothing, there are endless possibilities that lay before us – including rebuilding something previously torn down.

Suppose for a moment that we aren’t gifted with the talent to make something out of nothing. What then? Happily, this film addresses that too. If we have the misfortune to have missed our shot, or not to have been given the shot in the first place, there are other chances to be had. These chances lay in inspiring and supporting the people we care about in their moment of truth. Besides being dumb, beautiful kids in love, this show of support is what Cosmo and Raphina’s relationship is all about. As they stumble along down life’s path, they each have a hand to hold that encourages them to keep going.

More importantly though, this show of support is what Brendan is for. He might not have lived up to his potential, but he can still play a role in fostering Cosmo’s potential. Some of that comes through genuine offering of ideas and critique…but just as much of it comes from a nudge to the shoulder. We can inspire those who inspire us just by showing them that they are a source of good.

The beautiful idea at the core of SING STREET is the relationship between music and identity. In our younger years, most of us don’t really know who we are or who we want to become. Fortunately, to that end there are trail signs that have been left for us both by the people we care about, and the music that drifts into our orbit because of them. Voices whisper in our ears – both in-person and through our headphones. Not everything those voices say will make sense, but pieces of it do. We then take those selected words, that certain cadence, that particular phrasing and interpret it for ourselves. Like raiding your older sister’s music collection, claiming the lessons you latch to the most as your own is what carves your identity.

It takes a while, requires a few unfortunate playlists and key changes…but eventually we all get there. At a certain point, we find the melody that suits us the best, and the song we want to sing.

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on SING STREET.