Synopsis: Conor, a Dublin teenager in the 1980s, forms a band to impress too-cool-for-school local girl Raphina.
Director: John Carney
Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen
Genre: Drama / Musical
Release date: May 20, 2016
Running time: 106 mins
Irish writer-director John Carney has a singular gift for telling romantic, personal stories about musicians, as showcased in his delightful 2007 debut Once and his underrated, but equally wonderful follow-up Begin Again.
Carney’s latest film finds him very much on top form, this time adding a healthy dose of ’80s nostalgia to the mix and emerging with a Commitments-esque tale about musical expression, friendship and falling in love.
Featuring a sublime soundtrack and an exciting young cast of unknowns, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, laugh-out-loud musical drama that will have you grinning like an idiot for weeks on end.
Set in 1985, the film stars Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as Conor, a 15 year old Dublin schoolboy whose on-the-brink-of-divorce parents (Aidan Gillen and former Commitment Maria Doyle Kennedy) relocate him to the state-run Christian Brothers school on Synge Street after a financial setback.
Seeking advice on girls and music from his layabout big brother Brendan (Jack Reynor), Conor plucks up the courage to talk to super-cool older girl Raphina (Lucy Boynton) and gets her to agree to star in his band’s music video.
The problem? Conor doesn’t actually have a band, so he quickly sets about forming one, along with various schoolmates.
The performances are pitch-perfect across the board. Walsh-Peelo in particular is a terrific find and makes an extremely appealing lead, while Boynton has dream girl charisma to burn as Raphina and Reynor delivers an appealingly laid-back turn as Brendan.
Crucially, Carney gives both the fraternal relationship and the romantic connection equal weight, investing both with powerful emotion and making each as compelling as the other.
As with Carney’s previous pictures, music serves an important function and it’s clear that, for Conor, his creative expression represents both personal freedom (from the strictness of the school, as well as his parents’ restrictive economic situation) and the excitement of what the future might bring, both romantically and artistically.
The songs themselves are fabulously catchy, riffing on the likes of Duran Duran, The Cure and The Jam, but standing as their own thing, rather than pure pastiche (‘The Riddle of the Model’ and ‘Drive It Like You Stole It’ are both stand-outs).
In addition, the script is both laugh-out-loud funny and genuinely moving, while Carney keeps the film grounded in a sobering air of social realism (albeit with flights of fantasy), aided by some exceptional production design work that perfectly recreates the period.
Carney’s captivating combination of catchy songs and compelling characters is so utterly charming that you won’t want it to end. Surely set to be one of the films of the year.