Tag: john carney

Sing Street

Sing Street (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Sing Street,” written and directed by John Carney, falls into the familiar plotting which involves a teenager living in the dreary inner-city Dublin who manages to find an outlet for his thoughts, emotions, wants and needs by forming a band with his peers. However, undeniably fresh about the picture is its confidence of execution. The final product could have turned out to be yet another musical for teens where scenes merely parade the screen in order to build up to the next performance, but notice there are a handful of interesting characters to be found here.

Particularly touching through an occasionally comic lens is the relationship between brothers. Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is the youngest of three and he seeks romantic and musical advice from his eldest sibling, Brendan (Jack Reynor), the university dropout. Their exchanges, while amusing at times, command a realism to them that viewers with brothers will immediately recognize and inevitably relate with. Brendan is seen by the family, particularly the parents, as a bum but Conor regards him as someone trustworthy and of high value. Recognize there is not one scene that show parents relating to their children in a meaningful way. That missing relationship strengthens the brothers’ bond.

Set in 1985, the film is filled to the brim with music by Duran Duran, The Cure, Hall & Oates, among others. But the original songs shine, too. They are energetic, clever, well-written, and meaningful. Perhaps the most interesting sections of the material involve the recruitment of band members and trying to figure out what kind of music they wish to make. I enjoyed that we are able to see a clear improvement and progression not only in terms of songs but also in how the characters appear to have increased their confidence with each passing performance. Throughout the picture, we get the impression that the band is continuing to grow and evolve.

I wished, however, that a few of the later songs did not sound so polished. Take note of the pop ballads and how effective they are because what is showcased is the voice and only one or two instruments to build the tempo. The polished feel gives the feeling that the teens have made it big eventually but the story is never about becoming pop stars or celebrities. It is about outcasts coming together and creating art out of their trials and tribulations—whether it be with parents, authority figures at school, or trouble with getting girls.

Another limitation is spending too much time with Conor and his romantic interest (Lucy Boynton). We have seen characters like Raphina before: almost unapproachably beautiful with aspirations of appearing on magazine covers who turns out to have a sad backstory. Instead, more time should have been given to the band members. I would like to know more about Eamon (Mark McKenna), the multi-instrumentalist who loves rabbits. (Early in the picture, he suggests their band be called The Rabbits before the group reaches a decision that they be known as Sing Street.)

Romantics will fall hook, line, and sinker for “Sing Street” because it is equipped with a healthy dosage of humor and drama with enough infectious pop songs tying them together. It is a movie for people who have felt like outcasts as teenagers. At the same time, it offers a great message for teenagers who currently feel marginalized: Find something you enjoy, strive to get better at it, use that passion to make your life richer in some way, be open to evolve, and look for ways to break boundaries. As David Bowie coined, “Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming.”

Begin Again

Begin Again (2014)
★ / ★★★★

John Carney’s “Begin Again” needs to go back to basics and simply tell its story straight without the unnecessary gimmicks such as flashbacks that comprise of about fifty percent of the first half and showcasing overproduced songs that are supposedly performed live. I found it exhausting because it tries so hard to be authentic but it comes across very superficial and often in the doldrums with respect to pacing and overall mood.

Gretta (Keira Knightley) is approached by Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a former head of a record company, after singing in front of an audience whose reaction is lukewarm at best. Dan sees potential in her; he thinks she just needs to change her image a bit so people will find it easier to relate to her and her music. But Gretta is not interested in being signed because she wishes to be recognized for her talent, not the image she is selling. Eventually, however, the two find a common ground and decide to make a record.

Knightley and Ruffalo share absolutely no chemistry. Over the course of the two characters working together, there is supposed to be a whiff of friendship and possible romance blossoming between them, but neither connect in such a way that we feel, deep down, they are kindred spirits. The scenes that do work somewhat are short exchanges where Gretta and Dan disagree and create friction. However, these are supposed to be “mature” people and so an argument ends just before the scene ends.

A subplot involving Dan’s wife (Catherine Keener) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) is a minefield of boredom. Keener’s character is written to be as dull as possible. Meanwhile, Steinfeld’s character is not given anything to do other than to look sort of moody and hormonal—a stereotypical movie teenager—while wearing skimpy clothing. Surely Keener could have signed up for a project that is equal to her talent. I was more disappointed, however, that Steinfeld chose this role because she is usually pretty good at selecting characters with substance to them.

I will not even begin to describe the contrivance of Adam Levine’s character who starts off as a humble artist and becomes a complete jerk—all within a span of a month. As with Ruffalo, Knightley shares no genuine connection with Levine and so when their characters are supposed to be bonding, sharing things with one another, or having fun, it appears completely disingenuous. To me, their relationship is one that exists only in the movies.

I did not enjoy the songs—with the exception of “A Step You Can’t Take Back,” the first track featured in the film. The rest of the soundtrack is nothing special, most of them sound exactly like other female singer-songwriters on MySpace trying to break into the music industry. Because of this, we are never on board that Gretta is truly an undiscovered diamond who should become the next big thing.

“Begin Again” is largely unfocused and quite depressing in spots—not because of the content but because the work should have been more alive, executed with a sense of urgency, capturing that excitement of introducing an artist that the world should know about. Instead, what we are given is sub-mediocrity packaged in a dull box with the writer-director’s name written on the tag.