After Once and Begin Again , Carney returns with Sing Street , a coming-of-age musical set in 1985 Dublin, where a scruffy public school garage band forms. Fans will recognize pieces of earlier work in Carney's latest, making this a greatest hits compilation of sorts.
Sing Street is the band fronted by Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), named for the rough public school he's economically forced to attend. Conor isn't a musician; he's a sensitive Duran Duran fan wishing to impress Raphina (Lucy Boynton), an aspiring MTV video vixen. Learning to write songs and play guitar is a thing we do for love.
Conor's mentor and tormentor is older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), a slacker with a terrific vinyl collection. From that library, Carney pulls an array of pop, new wave and New Romantic nuggets for nostalgia's sake, in addition to retro compositions with Danny Wilson frontman Gary Clark. As always, a Carney soundtrack album is worth owning.
Sing Street is filled with swoon-inducing sequences, like Conor and the boys' shoestring attempt at a music video, that squeeze laughs around that lump in your throat. Or a homecoming dance rebellion against brown-shoe authority that John Hughes would salute.
Each central performance is endearing in some fashion, from Reynor's stoned wisdom to Raphina's naivete. Best of all is to Conor's evolution from meek to mascara, driven by creative urges he's just realizing, at an age when anything is possible and grownups will gripe about it. Walsh-Peelo is a startling discovery in the role, a former boy soprano aged to drama-pop perfection.
Occasionally, Sing Street feels like Carney's coasting on familiar romantic riffs and declarations of the purity of one's hardscrabble art. Then the movie breaks into song and all is forgiven, or at least forgotten until the next melody rescue. It's touching, and you can dance to it. What's not to love?