Those put off by the prospect of a musical in the ’80s pop style of Duran Duran or Pet Shop Boys should cast their prejudices aside when it comes to John Carney’s “Sing Street.” You might find yourself singing along.
That’s due largely to the film’s protagonist, Conor, played with aching authenticity by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo in his movie debut. Conor is aloof, direct, witty, crude, sophisticated, shy, obnoxious, romantic, cynical, and romantic. I used romantic twice with good reason. In short, he’s a 14-year-old boy.
Boys that age may be the same in most places and times, but his happens to be Dublin, 1985, a cultural backwater that nonetheless managed to produce the mega-band U2, the director Neil Jordan, and the novelist Roddy Doyle. Doyle’s 1987 novel “The Commitments” went on to become a hit movie in 1991.
“Sing Street” bears comparison to that Alan Parker-directed film in that it, too, is about a scrounged-together band struggling for success. But the newer movie adds an edge of real experience, as writer-director Carney (“Once”) also sprung up in Dublin in the 1980s, and this is roughly his story.
The uniqueness shines through from the first scene, when Conor sits in his bedroom strumming chords on his guitar. His parents are yelling downstairs, and he turns their obscenity-laced exchanges into song lyrics.
They are arguing about money. Dad has lost his job, and the family is downsizing. Which means Conor must relocate from his tony Jesuit school to a cheaper one run by the Christian Brothers in downtown Dublin on Synge Street. They are the Brownshirts of Catholic education, but the move has one benefit — he meets Raphina (Lucy Boynton), the muse who will inspire him to create Sing Street, the band, and have her star in their music videos.
Conor’s insufficiently reciprocated crush on the older Raphina is nothing new in movies of this kind. But his tricky relationship with his hash-smoking, dropout older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor) is something rarely seen on the screen. Brendan tried and failed at taking the musical route out of Dublin. Now, not without some envy, he helps Conor shape his sound by playing him records from bands he should imitate — kind of like putting together a station on Pandora.
The songs, written by Carney and Gary Clark, have a goofy but genuine appeal. Watch out, or you might end up downloading the soundtrack.
Written and directed by John Carney. Starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor. At Coolidge Corner, Kendall Square. 106 minutes. PG-13 (thematic elements including strong language and some bullying behavior, a suggestive image, drug material, teen smoking).Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.