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There are lots of stories about the intersection of teen anxiety and rock 'n' roll rebellion, but few are as fun, and as heartfelt, as the one Irish writer-director John Carney tells in "Sing Street."
The story is loosely autobiographical for Carney, who directed the luminous 2007 musical romance "Once." Set in Dublin in 1985, the story begins with 15-year-old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), dealing with feuding parents in a depressed economy, transferring to a rough Catholic-run Synge Street school where he's punched by bullies and berated by the headmaster (Don Wycherley) for wearing the wrong-colored shoes.
Across the street from the school is a girl's home, where Conor sees Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a 16-year-old stunner who has plans to move to London to be a model. Impulsively, he tells her he's in a band and asks her if she wants to star in their first video. When she says yes, Conor has to hurry and form a band.
With nerdy Darren (Ben Carolan) as self-appointed manager, Conor goes looking for kids with musical ability starting with Eamon (Mark McKenna), whose father is a covers-band musician with a house full of instruments. Meanwhile, Conor also receives musical and life advice from his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), a hash-smoking college dropout who sees Conor taking the opportunities he has let slip away.
Carney pumps "Sing Street" full of '80s style. The soundtrack is filled with period tracks from the likes of Duran Duran and A-ha, and their "Top of the Pops"/MTV-friendly videos inspire Conor's band's look even if their cinematic ambitions don't match their production skill. (Best inside joke: One of the kids' videos features a lot of picture frames, a reference to the Irish band The Frames, fronted by "Once" star Glen Hansard, for which Carney played bass in the early days.)
As with "Once" and Carney's follow-up, "Begin Again," much of the story and emotion of "Sing Street" is told through the songs. In the story, Conor and Eamon become songwriting partners, and their catchy tunes (actually written by Carney and pop performer Gary Clark) neatly trace the band's musical evolution and Conor's pining for Raphina.
Walsh-Peelo, making his movie debut, is charmingly awkward as the awkwardly charming Conor. He has good chemistry with the more worldly Raphina (Boynton, who's actually 21 and has a string of credits to her name), but the most fascinating and warm-hearted relationship here is between Conor and Reynor's Brendan, a brotherly bond that's both loving and competitive. The three leads make "Sing Street" as alive and vital as the spirit of rock 'n' roll that it celebrates.
A Dublin teen starts a rock band to impress a girl in this lively and heart-warming musical.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, May 6.
Rating • PG-13 for thematic elements including strong language and some bullying behavior, a suggestive image, drug material and teen smoking.
Running time • 106 minutes.