Ah, the joy and pain of first love! Young Conor (aka Cosmo, played in his impressive debut by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) has the smelly end of a shitty stick to deal with while growing up in 1980’s Dublin. He has warring parents with the need – for financial reasons – to move Conor from his posh school to ‘Singe Street’ Catholic school: a decidedly rougher and tougher place, ruled over with a rod of iron by Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley). This is a place of chaos and mayhem, ruled over by bullies of the likes of Barry (a superbly intimidating Ian Kenny).
The 15 year old Conor tries punching above his weight with the lovely 16 year old Raphina (Lucy Boynton) – a struggling wannabe model with “mysterious eyes” who hangs around outside the Woman’s Refuge opposite the school. To get her number, he claims to head up a band and to need her help with the band’s video. One small problem: there is no band and Conor has limited musical ability! He gathers around him a motley crew of friends, and with the help of his stoner brother (Jack Raynor) and his extensive vinyl collection, goes about creating a band to gain fame and fortune (or at least the girl).
This is a film that works on so many levels. As a piece of nostalgia for us older folks, the sights and sounds of the 80’s are brought vividly back to life, with a rocking soundtrack of the likes of Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet to enjoy. And as a coming of age movie, the long lingering looks, embarrassment and discomfort of first-dating is both touching and painful to watch, with the best Rich-Tea fuelled snog ever put on screen! Few films in fact have come this close to depicting this glorious ineptitude since John Gordon Sinclair and Dee Hepburn struggled to get together in Bill Forsyth’s “Gregory’s Girl” (making me feel ancient, this was actually set in 1981!).
It should be noted that at one point the film also models the casual racism prevalent at the time, with perhaps only the addition of a rebuking “You can’t say things like that” striking a less realistic note.
This is a film where nearly everyone is damaged in one way or another – drugs; hopeless ambition; child abuse; paedophilia, alcoholism; bullying; (the list goes on). However, the hugely intelligent script by writer and director John Carney drips the issues out in such tiny insinuations and snippets of conversation that it feels lifelike: not as if the film-maker is beating you over the head with it. This is just a poor Dublin life in the 80’s: get on with it.
All of this might make you think this is a hugely depressing, kitchen-sink type of drama that will leave you, at the end of the evening, in dire need of a box-set of “Father Ted” to cheer you up. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the same way as the music in Alan Parker’s 1991 Dublin-set classic “The Commitments” – and indeed 2013’s excellent Belfast-based “Good Vibrations” – lifted the spirits, so the drive and energy of the soundtrack makes the film a hugely uplifting experience. Besides the classic 80’s stuff there are some really great original songs (co-written by the multi-talented John Carney, with Gary Clark): I was still humming “Drive It Like You Stole It” in the car park.
The young cast throw themselves into the job with great energy, with Walsh-Peelo and Boynton delivering touching and impressive performances and Mark McKenna particularly worthy of note channeling a young John Lennon. My top acting accolade though goes to Jack Raynor (who was until recently rumoured to be in the running for the role of the young Han Solo: a role that’s now just gone to “Hail Caesar’s” Alden Ehrenreich). Playing Conor’s older and wiser brother, his frustration at his role in life boils over in a vinyl-smashing and hugely impressive rant that I would like to see credited with a Best Supporting Actor award. And amid all of the teenage love and band efforts, it is this aspect of brotherly love that eventually shines out as the beating heart of the film.
The film is a little rough at the edges – a dream sequence looks like it could have had a few more dollars thrown at it – but this often adds to the charm. John Carney seems to have quite an Indie following, but I’m not familiar with his other work. This film left me wanting to dig into his archives. It left my wife gushing with tears from beginning to end! A must see film.
Fad Rating: FFFF.
I loved this film. But how about you? Please comment below with your thoughts.