Dublin-born John Carney has worn many hats. He was the bassist for the Irish band The Frames in the early ’90s. He subsequently worked in indie film and television. (His show Bachelors Walk has been described as the most successful in Irish history.) But it wasn’t until 2007 that he truly pushed the Hibernian envelope—indeed, split it to shreds—with the tiny, scintillating gem Once. A musical romance made for less than $200,000, the film astonished critics (me, perhaps even more than most), won an Oscar for Best Song, and ultimately spawned a hit Broadway musical.
And so, in 2013, Carney attempted to replicate the formula with Begin Again, another film about a talented musical ingénue and an older male mentor who together attempt, quasi-romantically, to put together an album. (The movie might just as well have been titled Twice.) This time, though, Carney opted for a bigger budget and bigger stars (Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo), and forsook his native town for the glamour of New York—perhaps the city on Earth least in need of a musical encomium. Begin Again wasn’t a bad movie, but the subtle magic of Once was lost in trans-Atlantic translation.
I could scarcely be more delighted to report that Carney has rediscovered that magic with Sing Street, another tiny, winsome charmer set in Dublin. The year is 1985, with all that entails musically, good and (often) bad. When we first meet the protagonist, 15-year-old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), he’s experimenting with song lyrics in his bedroom: “I’ll be the mechanic of your heart, and with a wrench I’ll take you apart.” Hearing his parents (the sorely underutilized Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) fight downstairs, he instead endeavors to put their violent hollering to music: “If we didn’t share a mortgage, I’d leave you.”