This Irish teen musical is authentic, infectious and enormously endearing.
July 16, 2016
Who amongst us hasn't used music to process their thoughts and feelings? The right song can convey things that words alone cannot, as writer-director John Carney understands. In his films, moving ballads and catchy melodies intertwine with life and love, providing a killer soundtrack to memorable moments and an effective method of expressing emotions. When his characters pen lyrics, strum instruments and grab the mic, they're not just creating tunes and chasing dreams — they're helping make sense of everything around them.
Indeed, while he put his foot in his mouth earlier this year, when it comes to making beautiful music — in movies like Once and Begin Again — the Irish filmmaker excels. You'd be right to say that Carney has a formula, but that's by no means a criticism. Although his movies can feel as though they're repeating the same narrative, they're earnest and vibrant in their own ways all the same.
Carney sets his latest toe-tapping tale in Dublin in the financially struggling '80s — a period when Duran Duran's glossy 'Rio' clip played on TV, and everyone watching just wanted to make ends meet. For 15-year-old Conor Lalor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), money troubles means changing schools, with his bickering parents (Maria Doyle Kennedy and Aiden Gillen) sending him to the local Christian-run academy. He's bullied by teachers and classmates, but he also crosses paths with aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton), who lives across the road. Eager to get her phone number, he asks her to star in a video for his band...despite the fact that he doesn't actually have one.
Conor's quest involves rounding up new friends, including the rabbit-obsessed Eamon (Mark McKenna) and enterprising wannabe manager Darren (Ben Carolan). With the assistance of his college dropout brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), it also means listening to the likes of The Cure, Spandau Ballet and Hall & Oates, and aping their sounds and style. Cue some of the film's best outfits and standout original tunes, including the futurist-leaning 'The Riddle of the Model', the heartfelt 'A Beautiful Sea', and the upbeat 'Drive It Like You Stole It'. The pop tracks do more than entertain; whether amusing or tender, each one is infectious, endearing, exuberant, and anchored in authentic sentiments and experiences.
The same descriptions apply to Carney's cast, particularly newcomer Walsh-Peelo and Transformers: Age of Extinction star Reynor, who convincingly capture both the uncertainties and the yearnings of youth. Accordingly, while the film initially seems like a straightforward musical romance, its coming-of-age journey also provides a touching testament to brotherly bonds courtesy of their respective performances. That's just one of a handful of surprises in a story that appears to follow a clear path, yet still finds new ways to offer depth and charm. Carney's colourful imagery and snappy pacing, meanwhile, ensures the movie always feels like the joyous blend of music, emotion and escapism that it is — complete with an inspired riff on Back to the Future that couldn't be more fitting.