Irish Film Review: Sing Street


DIR/WRI: John Carney • PRO: Anthony Bregman, John Carney, Kevin Scott Frakes, Christian Grass, Martina Niland, Raj Brinder Singh, Paul Trijbits • DOP: Yaron Orbach  • ED: Andrew Marcus, Julian Ulrichs • DES: Alan MacDonald • MUS: Carter Burwell • CAST: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy

John Carney is a director on the rise and, if his latest offering is anything to go by, he isn’t about to plateau any time soon. Warm, delightfully infectious, and, above all else, sincere, Sing Street is the perfect blend of serious and silly that will resonate with anyone of any age. Now and again whimsy threatens to undermine the film’s solid dramatic foundation, but Carney artfully reels in the more fluffy moments when needed to let the quieter moments shine through. What makes this film such a thrill to sit through is that everything works – the acting, the writing, the characters and, of course, the music. It’s a coming-of-age story that all will recognise, just not in the way you’d think.

Taking place in 1980s Dublin, a place and time rife with economic uncertainty and immigration much like today, 15-year-old Conor is facing some growing-pains. His unhappy parents are teetering at the edge of separation, his older brother Brendan (Reynor) seems content to lock himself away in his room and smoke weed forever, and the family’s strained financial situation means Conor is forced to attend the local Christian Brothers on Synge Street, where bullies take the form of both break-yard pests and authoritative priests. In the midst of the chaos, the enigmatic Raphina (Boynton) catches our young hero’s eye and his heart. In a bid to impress the girl of his dreams, Conor harries his fellow classmates into starting a band. With nothing to lose, but with perhaps a lot to gain, ‘Sing Street’ is formed.

Needless to say, the film serves as a trip down nostalgia lane for all those who lived and grew up during the 80s. Jam packed with the musical stylings of the various bands that defined the era, including Duran Duran, A-ha, The Cure, and The Clash, to name but a few, the film’s original songs also succeed in capturing the eclectic style of the time while remaining pieces onto themselves. Brilliant though the musical element of the film undoubtedly is, it also the only element that sometimes rings false. Conor and his friends are amateurs (albeit talented ones) recording music in their mums’ sitting rooms, yet the finished products always sound suspiciously sleek and studio produced. A rougher sound may have added a little bit more to the film’s otherwise genuine tone. Luckily, however, this is a small matter in the wider context of the film.

The heart of the film lies in its actors’ performances. Breakout star Ferdia Walsh-Peelo brings a level of likeability yet vulnerability to the role that engages the audience from the first scene. There is a natural ease to his performance that makes me eager to see how he will evolve in future films. Jack Reynor is ever reliable as the disillusioned would-be-rebel, making what could have been a stereotypical character into an engaging and sympathetic human being. Thankfully, there is no weak link in the cast. Every actor delivers solid, thoughtful performances be they veterans of the industry or newcomers.

The film’s biggest asset is that it knows when to tug on the heartstrings and when to let the goofiness reign. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s sweet, it can be cruel. It may not be a big blockbuster or a reboot of a famous ’80s franchise, but this is a film as worthy of your hard earned cash when it is released in cinemas this St. Patrick’s Day. Don’t waste your time on empty-calorie flicks, instead feast your eyes on the immensely satisfying Sing Street.

Ellen Murray

105 minutes

12A (See IFCO for details)

Sing Street is released 17th March 2016


Video Interview: ‘Sing Street’ Actor Jack Reynor and Director John Carney


Jack Renor


Sing Street takes us back to 1980s Dublin where an economic recession forces Conor out of his comfortable private school and into survival mode at the inner-city public school where the kids are rough and the teachers are rougher. He finds a glimmer of hope in the mysterious and über-cool Raphina, and with the aim of winning her heart he invites her to star in his band’s music videos. She agrees, and now Conor must deliver what he’s promised – calling himself “Cosmo” and immersing himself in the vibrant rock music trends of the ‘80s, he forms a band with a few lads, and the group pours their hearts into writing lyrics and shooting videos.

Deirdre Molumby talks to actor Jack Reynor about his role in the film as Cosmo’s older brother and music mentor. Jack also chats about keeping one foot in Irish film and the other in Hollywood, and his upcoming role in Jim Sheridan’s The Secret Scripture.


Deirdre also spoke to John Carney, the film’s director, about returning to Dublin to film after Begin Again, making modern-day musicals and making a period film.


You can download/listen to an audio podcast of the interview with Jack Reynor below


You can download/listen to an audio podcast of the interview with John Carney below:


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‘Sing Street’ Director John Carney and Cast @ IFI

Director John Carney and lead actors Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna will attend the IFI for a Q&A following the opening night screening of their new film Sing Street on Friday March 18th. The screening will start at 8pm.With money tight in a boozy, middle-class 1980s Dublin household, youngest son Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is forced to transfer from his private school to the Brothers in Synge Street where posh new boys are easy prey for the school bullies. Working on relationship advice and musical cues from his much-admired, louche, older brother (Jack Reynor), he forms a band to attract a sophisticated older woman (Lucy Boynton) who he persuades to appear in a series of music videos.

Tickets for this screening + Q&A are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at

Sing Street opens in cinemas nationwide on St. Patrick’s Day.


ADIFF Irish Film Review: Sing Street



Ailbhe O’ Reilly sings along to John Carney’s Sing Street, which opened this year’s Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

You could be mistaken for thinking that John Carney’s latest film Sing Street is essentially pitched as High School Musical set in Dublin in the ’80s.  Not exactly the premise of a great film, but you would be wrong as the movie is a real gem.

Carney has already gotten some notice for the low budget Once and the more mainstream film Begin Again – both of which I liked, but I believe that Sing Street is his best yet. The cast of mainly unknowns – apart from the lead Cosmo’s parents played by Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy and his brother Jack Reynor (in a truly awful wig!) – rise to the task and give the film a naturalism that is rare in musicals.

The lead Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and his friend Eamon (Mark McKenna) are particularly strong as the film’s Lennon and McCarthy – with some beautiful song writing scenes that are becoming a staple in Carney’s films.

The story follows Cosmo as he is forced to move to an inner city school, Synge Street CBS, when his parents are experiencing money problems. As with all coming-of-age stories, there is of course a girl that Cosmo wants to impress, so he then naively decides to form a band with his school mates in order to woo her.

What makes Sing Street unique and gets the audience on side is that Carney doesn’t forget he is in Dublin in the ’80s, it is unpretentious and the director uses the Irish sense of humour to great effect. There are many laugh out loud moments poking fun at the decade’s style, the fickle lives of teenagers and the awkwardness of adolescent’s love lives.

The film is also more realistic than most musicals as the issues of school bullying, cruel teachers and family problems are all dealt with as part of teenage life.

The film’s soundtrack is brilliant and you will find yourself toe tapping throughout to both the original score and eighties hits.

Sing Street has a great pace and a fantastic climax that will find you leaving the cinema smiling after a truly excellent Irish film. Carney is going from strength to strength and Hollywood is beginning to take notice.



Sing Street screened on 18th February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 18 -28 February) 

Irish films at ADIFF




Begin Again

begin again

DIR/WRI: John Carney  PRO: Tobin Armbrust, Anthony Bregman  DOP: Yaron Orbach  ED: Andrew Marcus   DES: Chad Keith  MUS: Gregg Alexander  CAST: Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, James Corden, Mark Ruffalo

“A true New York story about the magical opportunities that can be found under this great city’s bright lights,” is how John Carney describes his latest film Begin Again.  Featuring musical contributions from names such as Danielle Brisbois, Gregg Alexander and Glen Hansard, Begin Again is a musical comedy-drama that upholds Carney’s belief in the power of musical collaboration to bring lost souls together, as previously seen in his 2006 film Once.

The film stars Keira Knightley and Adam Levine as Gretta and Dave, a long-term couple and songwriting partnership who move to New York where Dave lands a deal with a major label. When Gretta finds herself alone following a betrayal, she meets disgraced record label executive Dan (Mark Ruffalo) at an East Village open mic.  Captivated by her raw talent, Dan insists on a musical collaboration with Gretta in order to harbour the musical authenticity they both value.

While the film could have potentially fallen into the trap of simply ‘Americanising’ the Once scenario, it nonetheless holds its own.  Moreover, the film evokes a sense of universality, as both English and American humour and mannerisms are successfully combined together in a well-written screenplay that can be equally appreciated by audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.  However, Carney relies on more than just words for his storytelling power, as he aptly incorporates music into the film in order to expose what happens beyond the dialogue; throughout the film, music is shown to reveal the true nature of relationships and personalities, while at the same time bringing the simple urban surroundings of New York to life.

Furthermore, while Knightley and Ruffalo have a charming on-screen relationship as Gretta and Dan, the most likeable pairing is actually Gretta and her busking friend Steve (James Corden).  This is largely due to the fresh source of comic relief provided by Corden, which works well with the sharp comments of the unassuming yet opinionated Gretta. This is emphasised by the documentary, ‘fly on the wall’ style of the film, which make the character interactions seem genuine.

However, despite the film’s claims of promoting musical authenticity, it nevertheless falls victim to the commercialism that it tries to overthrow.  Knightley’s supposedly ‘live’ vocals are clearly processed by Auto-Tune, therefore depriving Gretta’s music of its rawness and transforming it into a commodity.  It is also difficult to ignore the fact that Gretta never really achieves independence over her own music as Dan, like a true big-label producer, seems to have total control over the production of the album they set out to record.  This would be forgivable if the film included one stand-out song such as that of ‘Falling Slowly’ in Once.  Unfortunately, the soundtrack lacks such a song, which may come as a disappointment to fans of Carney’s previous musical offering.  Moreover, Carney tends to overestimate the power of music to change one’s life for the better, as the outcome of one particular character’s individual story seems too good to be true.  Therefore, like the film’s music, the plot ultimately becomes subject to formulaic mass-production, rather than achieving a sense of authenticity.

While Begin Again does have its obvious contradictions, its fresh wit, likeable cast and musical plot progression gives it the potential to be the ‘feel good’ film of the summer months once it has its Irish premiere at Galway Film Fleadh.

Aisling Daly

15A (See IFCO for details)
103 mins

Begin Again is released on 11th July 2014

Begin Again – Official Website


Begin Again: Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh


Stephen Totterdell checks out Irish director John Carney‘s Begin Again, which opened this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Take Once, set it in NYC, and turn the emotions up as far as they’ll go – you’ve got an approximation of Begin Again. Despite this, John Carney’s latest film works with one of the sharpest screenplays of the last few years. Add to that a hugely endearing Mark Ruffalo (who I predict will soon get the Bryan Cranston treatment), as well as Ray Romano, and there’s something refreshing about this film. In the ’70s, Woody Allen refused directorial preciousness with Annie Hall – inventing the subtitles scene, the animated scene, the layered flashbacks; and anything to keep the film fresh and engaging. It looks like John Carney has taken a similar approach, playfully subverting both Hollywoood’s and the audience’s expectations. This feels like it comes out of a genuine anxiety of “selling out”, and indeed the film’s themes mirror this anxiety.

Mark Ruffalo plays a down-and-out family man and former indie record label owner, whose personal issues have cost him everything. When he stumbles across Keira Knightley’s poorly received open mic performance in New York, his contrarian nature tells him that she could be – with a little work – an important artist. While her former partner and ex-boyfriend becomes a music legend, her passion for the craft at the expense of success sees her living hand-to-mouth.

Carney introduces a number of familiar cinematic elements, only to undercut these moments with a dexterity subtler than anything stock postmodernism could achieve. When James Corden invites Keira Knightley to perform at a gig, she is reluctant. This reluctancy is followed by an arc-friendly acquiescence. Then, rather than provoking the awe we expect, she bombs. This development is subverted again by a moment I won’t spoil. The film is full of this playfulness, and refusal to be precious about its subject matter.

Although Carney clearly wrestles with the move from Irish film to Hollywood, he manages to marry Hollywood’s sentimentalism with a low-key sense of humour that sounds a note akin to a few other young U.S. directors. Along with Joseph Gordon Levitt and Ryan Gosling, Carney is determined not to follow the beaten path. The vogue today is for artists to reject the establishment in order to carve out their own unique careers, and the rise of Kickstarter films along with indie publishers and Twitter successes fits nicely with this film. That its message can be tied to a very American message (Emerson’s ideas on self-reliance and ignoring the crowd aren’t exactly new) reveals it to be less revolutionary than it wants to be, but that it does so within a stringently anti-risk industry and that Ruffalo and Knightley’s journeys clearly mirror Carney’s give this philosophy a visceral affirmation.

Structurally the film operates on a strange level. The A plot and the B plot don’t overlap in the way that one expects. It’s as if we are watching two different films spliced together.

Both Knightley and Ruffalo have been on the path previously tread by Matthew McConnaughey, albeit at slower speeds. That so many artists eventually come to reject easy success in order to pursue what they’re passionate about is a nice trend in American cinema right now. There should be films that reflect this spirit. This film brings hope – a qualified hope – for the future of American cinema. It’s not great. But it is interesting.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)


We Love… 25 Years of Irish Film – Once

So Film Ireland magazine is 25 years old. Over those years Ireland has produced some great films which have been successful both here and abroad – not to mention nabbing a few Oscars® along the way. And so over the next couple of weeks Film Ireland‘s army of cinema dwellers look back over the last 25 years and recall their favourite Irish films in the latest installment of…

We Love…

25 Years of Irish Film



(John Carney, 2006)

‘… flows along beautifully with the supporting lyrical framework…’

Juls Nicholl-Stimpson

Once enthusiastically Irish, yet culturally diverse from start to finish; a lyrical rom-com far removed from Hollywood and its invariable conclusive endings. Once leaves us to make up our own minds about the futures of the two nameless central characters.

A naturalistic drama, it’s dry Irish sarcastic humour is slightly stereotypical, borderline cliché but well conveyed none the less; from the typical junkie to our nameless busker just looking to make a crust. The two central characters – known only as guy (Glen Hansard) and girl (Markéta Irglová), their fortuitous meeting is ordinary; set on busy Grafton Street, it remains unforced, un-manipulated, completely true to life. As she wanders by she stops to listen to him sing. Engaging ‘guy’ in conversation she finds out he works in a small hoover repair shop by day and asks him to have a look at hers. Sure enough the next day along she comes pulling the hoover comically behind her as if walking a dog! The film showcases Glen Hansards spectacular vocals as his character Guy journeys with the help of the unnamed Girl to assemble a demo tape for his move to London. Both out of long term relationships, both are searching for an answer relating to their respective ex’s becoming an outlet for each other and at times the attraction between them is tense.

Let’s make sweet music together

Though there are natural aspects to this film, the story is fictitious and there are the elements of the unnatural such as the unnamed girl singing whilst walking through the street donned in pyjamas and sheep slippers in the middle of the night untargeted by any of the kids on the inner city street. Also the scene in the bank manager’s office was completely unrealistic though humorous; I don’t think you would hear of any bank manager whipping out his guitar for a quick singsong mid-meeting just to show his enthusiasm or support for their recording venture.

Not only has John Carney’s Once been nominated and won an Oscar® but it has also won best foreign film at the Independent Spirit awards. Incredibly filmed and on a budget of €130,000, we have to love this musical comic love story which goes above and beyond to convey unspoken messages through the lyrics and fleeting looks. This is a perfect example of minimalistic dialogue; less is definitely more. The film overall, flows along beautifully with the supporting lyrical framework. For me this is an impressive example of Irish film, not your usual rom-com and definitely one to watch if you like musicals.

Juls Nicholl-Stimpson