Lee does his best to avoid just spilling on anecdotal connections with Sing Street, and instead keep wearing that critic’s hat and review what is, spoiler, one of the best films of 2016.
If any particular trope in storytelling lends itself well to romanticisation, it’s the “coming of age” story. The process of learning through experience and observation how to understand the life we are given and how best to adapt to the life we will soon lead is one riddled with blurs, misunderstandings, mistakes, contradictions and indecisiveness (to name just a few more prominent traits). There are no clear answers and so, when scrutinising how to retell these trickier periods of life, shouldn’t we aim to romanticise rather than attempt to arbitrate; impart the generalities, the highs and lows, the tones and feelings, all without assuming that what was applicable before will be once again?
How Sing Street handles adolescence in a working-class background, the simplicity of creativity in the face of overwhelming adversary from the many curveballs life can throw, the therapeutic and absorbing act of idolisation, identification and the further passions that spin out of such is so romantic, so sentimental and self-indulgent that it can’t help but be unrelentingly perfect in its portrayal of not the specifics of these moments for those involved, but in the nostalgia and idealism that comes from once experiencing them.
It is at once intensely backwards-facing and, ultimately, forwards-thinking as it attempts to use the general trials and tribulations of its characters in a very specific setting at a very specific time in modern history to inspire those in the audience who may also be struggling with similar issues to overcome through discovering niches and developing them as outlets. It hopes to instil a sense of comradery and self-medication in a manner that doesn’t preach nor detail as to feel like another set of rules on how to approach life. It’s just another opinion; one given with a careless shrug and a half-hearted pat on the back to let you know you still get to make the rules when it comes time to make the play.
It’s not without its narrative and filmmaking charms either. Echoing any good book, we can read the transformation of Conor to Cosmo in a multitude of lights, and the parallels between a dream-sequence 50s dance music video to the real, moving school concert that acts as the final catalyst for our main character to act on his escapism could all be just a collection of wonderful metaphors. And by all means, imagine; the film encourages it. Consistent, proactive direction keeps us right where we need to be from just the right angle each time, detaching us only when we must to allow the moment and the characters some space to breathe.
These are all frills, however. The heart of the narrative beats strong, and the sincerity with which the film portrays the often melodramatic issues facing the teenagers far outshines any need to debate oversimplification, contrivance or convenience. It’s not true-to-life, often glossing over the trivial or specifics to keep us always in the “action”, but by doing so stays always involving, always romantic; something that’s echoed in the almost too-clever choice in soundtrack.
It might not relate to everyone; it’s not really supposed to, as we do see these kids stand out from the crowd almost from the first beat. It contains a number of two-dimensional characters, some clichés you’re bound to have seen in other similar stories and certainly some anachronistic nitpicks that I’m sure some will be driven mad by. Some will berate its linking of escapism with the very logical next step in pop that music of that era took, but they will be missing the point: this affected people on a level that felt like true escapism, it doesn’t really matter where it came from or in what form.
Sing Street is a wonderful movie, simply put, from start to finish. Bold-facedly naive and beautiful in the ugliest way, it hits all the important marks without feeling forced and any attempt to stare its sheer optimism down requires cynicism unbefitting of such a gem; it’s a must-see.