IF YOU take off your glasses and watch John Carney's Sing Street out of focus—as a lighthearted teen romcom about following your dreams—you'll love it. The idea of a mousy 15-year-old Irish boy named Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) wrangling his equally mousy peers to start a "futurist" new wave band to woo model Raphina (Lucy Boynton) is charming enough. And the mid-'80s soundtrack is pretty good!
But you might not love it if you get hung up on half-baked, passing mentions of alcoholism, divorce, and domestic violence that come out of nowhere, thrown into the narrative like poop Frisbees at a picnic. The film clumsily but forcefully inserts a scene where Cosmo and his bandmates solicit the help of a young boy named Ngig (Percy Chamburuka), convinced he must play an instrument since he's black. After he joins up, Ngig fades into the background. Even Raphina gets similar treatment—she's Cosmo's muse and motivation, but in her own life, she's a victim of circumstance. Character development seems reserved for Cosmo, while the other people in his life largely exist as props.
Sing Street is clearly meant to be a coming-of-age romantic comedy, but one with vague allusions to incest and Catholic priests molesting schoolboys. These are important issues to explore, but the nonchalant approach feels remiss, particularly given Sing Street's Grease-like, deus ex machina happy ending. I'm all for dragging that shit into the light, but perhaps with the deft, Joycean humor of John Michael McDonagh's The Guard, not High School Musical-style jazz hands.
Sing Street isn't all bad... but the bad parts are pretty bad. While the story is largely driven by the effects of Ireland's failing economy in 1985, the plot's fantastical aspects and easily achieved resolutions make it seem all the more unlikely that in real life these characters could escape issues like alcoholism, domestic violence, and sexual abuse. It's difficult to watch Sing Street and turn a blind eye to its underlying problems, since the film's narrative oversimplifies its most captivating moments.