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The 80s will be forever marked in my psyche as the decade that defined me, my taste in music, art, and what introduced me to the very adult feelings of love, hate, fear, courage, self-assertion, hate, all in incipient form waiting to be germinated. How curious for me to walk into the Angelika last week and see this movie which I knew nothing about and see that its main character, a young Irish boy living in Dublin, formed a rock band to impress a slightly older girl who lives across the street where he goes to school?
It could have almost been my autobiography, in a way. Seeing Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a kid who at the start of the movie we learn was placed in a cheaper — what we could call “public” school in the Caribbean — school where truants and skinheads ran amok and teachers (in this case, Irish Catholic priests) paid homage to bullying the student into submission, I could see myself at about the same age when the story starts, trying to survive in lieu of fitting in. Fitting in is not Conor’s thing: he’s too educated, to different in every step of the way, so by default he’s set to be the fall guy for every bully looking for a quick brawl.
Enter Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a girl who lives across the street from the school and could often be seen standing there in trendy outfits, almost posing if you will. Conor musters up the courage to go talk to her. He’s totally impressed by her and he barely even knows who she is, and as luck and teenage lust would have it he farts a band out of his own ass and tells Raphina he’ll be sending her a demo for his new song. The catch: he neither has a song, much less a band.
While Conor’s parents bicker constantly, his brother witnesses his first clumsy attempts at music and feeds Conor LPs of pop artists of the moment. It’s through here that Conor and a gaggle of classmates and neighbors form a band called Sing St., a band that could have very well existed in the New Romantic / Brit Invasion of the early to mid 80s (the story takes place approximately around 1985-86). They start playing cheap covers, but soon enough a synergy forms between Conor and band leader Eamon (Mark McKenna) and they start jamming on their own, coming up with some pretty sharp tunes that sound of the period. Raphina becomes their go-to model, but she has other ambitions — to get the fuck out of dodge and start anew in London as a model. She also has other problems, one of them, having an off-screen dysfunctional relationship with an older guy.
Despite the predictability of the story, I’m going to recommend it mainly because it’s every kid’s true coming of age via the catharsis of pop music not just of the 80s but of any period and time. Conor, and also his troubled older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor, whom I recently saw in Glassland) have a wonderful symbiotic relationship that bolsters each other’s existence. Brendan seems to see in Conor the person he could have been and of course, pushes him to do his best and be authentic. While later events conspire to tear the brotherly fabric apart, this to me is the most solid relationship in the movie, because even when Conor and Raphina somehow become a rather unsteady item, I have serious doubts that it would last past their teen years.
Even so, much of the action is kept on a positive, upbeat note and this keeps Sing St. from becoming cloying and unbearably sad. It is a treasure trove of 80s pop tunes and the homages are all over the place, from Duran Duran to Spandau Ballet to The Cure, The Jam, Depeche Mode, but ultimately the film belongs to the kids who create and perform some remarkable tunes. It’s not exactly perfection, but I will say, I cheered when the credits rolled and even felt a dab of emotion when I saw how far these characters had come in such a compressed period of time. For the nostalgics, for anyone who lived and loved the 80s, this is the right picture to watch and play on repeat like a long MTV video.