Drive it like you stole it…
Ah I’m surprised I missed this movie in the beginning of 2016; but hey, Netflix gives second winds to plenty of other films for the world to enjoy. Yes people, this movie got released last weekend on the streaming service just in the nick of time for Oscar consideration. And I gotta admit, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed a film about awkward teenagers singing for an hour and 45 minutes.
Our story takes place in Dublin, Ireland in 1985 and it’s a place where freaking no one wants to be, it’s also the home of our main protagonist, Conor (played by unknown actor, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). He’s recently been transferred to an all boy State Catholic school, Synge Street CBS, after Conor’s father (played by Littlefinger himself, Aiden Gillen) can’t afford to keep the boy in a private school. After a few days of surviving asshole bullies, Conor sees a girl named Raphina (Lucy Boynton) across the street from his school and is instantly smitten. Hoping to start a conversation with this self-proclaimed model, he offers her a place in his band’s music video. One tiny problem: Conor doesn’t have a band. But never doubt a boy’s determination to get laid because Conor organizes a straight up garage band that…has surprisingly good music.
No that’s not the film recognizing “good music,” that’s me telling you that the songs in this film are pretty fucking sweet. Drawing influences from popular rock bands in the mid-80s, the original music in this movie is surprisingly catchy and enjoyable. Hell, some of the songs surpass in quality the licensed music the filmmakers got from A-Ha, Motörhead, Duran Duran, The Clash, Hall & Oates, and The Cure. But these licensed tracks aren’t simply thrown in the film “because 80s,” (see Watchmen‘s clumsy soundtrack) but rather because they show where our characters are drawing their musical inspiration from.
A good portion of the film is taken up by Conor being taught rock n’ roll by his brother, Brendan (played by Jack Reynor, the asshole boyfriend from Transformers: Age of Extinction…really). And aside from introducing our protagonist to quality music, these moments are among the most memorable of the film since they feature a wonderful interaction between these brothers as they share excitedly in something they’re both passionate about. It’s entertaining, it’s heartfelt, and it features some raw emotional moments that tugged on my weathered heartstrings. Given the fact this film was also dedicated “To Brothers Everywhere,” it wears the fraternal relationships on its sleeve and is all the better for it.
Shockingly, as good as the interplay between and his brother is, the film throws even more fun relationships at you. Conor and his hastily assembled band mates have charming dialogue between them, and I was thoroughly impressed that many of these young men were unknown actors. The best exchanges occur between Conor and a musical prodigy named Eamon (Mark McKenna), when they develop the band’s own songs by creating the rhythms and lyrics. These moments are both informative and interesting to watch as you see these two personalities create art in a non-antagonistic way. It’s honestly refreshing at a time I’ve seen too much debate and conflict in my own life, so these scenes warmed my heart.
But the relationship I was not expecting to enjoy as much as I did was the one that’s pretty central to the film: Conor and Raphina. They’re awkward flirtations with each other doesn’t lean into creepy land like in Fifty Shades of Grey and as tortured as the first third of Hacksaw Ridge. It’s just a pair of dumb teens finding attraction to each other and developing a relationship over music; it’s honest, it’s pure, and it’s just lovely. Yep all the cute ass words I can summon in the freaking dictionary.
I was seriously having trouble thinking of anything I didn’t like because the film charmed the pants off of me and made me literally tap my toes to some quality music. Cannot emphasize enough how good these songs are, because I bought the soundtrack the morning after seeing this movie and I’ve been listening to it as I drive, dancing in my seat. And I say that embarrassing fact with zero fucking shame. If none of these songs, particularly “Drive It Like You Stole It,” get nominated for an Oscar, then I’m going to have to section myself for fear of potential pyromania.
And if you’re the kind of person who wonder aloud, “oh how hard could making music be for a motion picture?” Then I would kindly direct your attention to a film called The Identical (link to an old review of mine here). Never heard of it? Well it was stealthily marketed as a faith-based film and it bombed horribly upon release both because it was just a shit film AND because it had an atrocious soundtrack. Matter of fact, the film was made by a family of songwriters and you quickly deduce they used the guise of a film leaning towards Christian audiences to fool them into buying their music. But as I said, the songs were fucking terrible even though they were drawing influences from music in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. To add insult, the movie failed to mention the HEAVY inspiration of Elvis Presley in the songs, even though the plot of the film mirrors the life of the legendary artist.
Conversely, Sing Street proudly clues you into where our characters (and filmmakers) were drawing their muses from, thus helping you connect dots between classic 80s rock and the original songs featured. It’s both a sign of respect to the original artists, and also way more realistic than claiming “these are some old songs my family and I use to sing.” Further, these are all tied together through the direction and writing of John Carney, an Irish director of some independent fare like Once and Begin Again that also heavily involve musicians. But with Sing Street, Carney turns the production into a semi-autobiographical take on his own life growing up in Dublin. To me, this is his finest work yet and you can definitely feel the passion he has for music and film blended together seamlessly through solid camerawork and perfect direction of his actors.
And the cast is fucking phenomenal. I’ve praised the exchanges I loved already, but our leads in Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Lucy Boynton are wonderful finds. As for Jack Reynor, he has completely redeemed himself in my eyes for the clusterfuck that was Transformers and I look forward to seeing him in bigger and better things in the future. While it might seem like a longshot, I do want to see this kid get nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars this year. His delivery of the character is absolutely crucial to what makes this film work, that taking him out would lead to a far worse film.
I think you’ve read enough of my lavish praise for this film, so go and check this out on Netflix when you get home. You definitely won’t be disappointed because I’m awarding this movie the highest possible…