A teenager in 80s Dublin starts a band to impress a girl.
The latest film from John Carney (Once) can be summed up pretty well with the line above, but that can’t capture how much fun it is to watch.
One thing worth mentioning – this is most definitely a musical. While you can’t guess it from the films trailer and even Carney would say they’ve avoided labelling it as such, few films in recent memory satisfy the title better.
It’s a film that lives and thrives on music and sound, plunging the viewer headlong into the cacophonous pop of the 1980s and using existing and original songs to drive the story forward and to help the characters illustrate their emotions. And it all comes together in fantastical moment with dance sequences, period dress and Jack Reynor on a motorcycle for the ‘Drive it Like You Mean it Number.’
Music fans of the era will get a special kick out of it but this is also a film which speaks to all kids of the 80s. The cultural touchstones are there in droves; from the Aisling copybooks to the fear of a Black Widow catapult. And it’s also vivid in the recreation of just how poor and decrepit our nation was back then, and the crappy urban spaces we used for play because we had no choice – brilliantly brought to life in a sequence when the young crew make a music video in a dodgy alleyway.
Leading up this proto band is young Ferdia Walsh Peelo. A classically trained singer in real life, he had no screen experience when he got the role of Conor at the tender age of 14. And while that innocence really works for the character he also does a terrific job in the part, selling a role which requires him to be more than just another girl-obsessed teenage dweeb. He’s got heart and a personality which makes him likeable without the film having to tell us so.
The young cast is generally excellent, with fine contributions from the rest of the band despite relatively limited screentime. Affection object Raphina (Lucy Boynton) doesn’t fare quite so well – struggling to contain her English accent and feeling a little too old for proceedings.
Much of the appeal of the film comes from Carney’s breezy direction and the gentle humour which comes out in his script. The themes of youth and family and MUSIC are broad and genial enough to make this a real crowd pleaser, and there's big box office potential in its future with a US release planned in April 2016.
For now though it’s earned an Irish release on St. Patrick’s Day and there’s plenty of humour for the locals plus a dramatic (if predictable) story and a bevy of memorable songs. Recommended.