Director: John Carney
Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Aidan Gillen, Kelly Thornton
Written by John Carney
Running Time: 106 mins
Release date: 20th May 2016
We seem to be in a current nostalgic resurgence of the 80’s. We’ve had Eddie The Eagle, the anti-hero of ski jumping and we have a new Richard Linklater comedy set in the 80’s, Everybody Wants Some! coming soon. Before that, John Carney gives us a charming examination of growing up in Dublin as a young boy searches for his identity, using music as his advisor, which comes at as like The Commitments meet Gregory’s Girl.
Connor is 15 years old. He has been forced to move to a Catholic Boy’s School, full of bullying and disruption. On his way home, he sees a young girl called Raphina, all attitude and super cool, who dreams of being a model. Connor convinces her that he has a band and they are looking for a girl for their first video. Connor has to form that band, made up of misfits from school. While they try to find their individual sound, Connor has to cope with an identity crisis, a family falling apart, a brutal priest and his growing infatuation with Raphina all the while getting life advice in the form of 80’s music from his brother.
John Carney has already given us two musical based dramas, in the form of the small yet beautiful Once and the hugely underrated Begin Again. This, in musical terms, should have been his difficult third album. Yet returning to his small-scale roots that made Once such a winner, he has delivered yet another pitch-perfect, musically driven drama that manages not only to capture a time and period but exactly what is was like to try to find your identity while falling in love.
The film oozes charm from every pore while never laying on the sentimentality thickly. Connor’s life is a confused mess made up of a family barely hanging on together, a new school where he certainly doesn’t fit, being the victim of not only the bullying of his classmates but the attention of the vile priest who rules the school with an iron fist. Thankfully, Carney avoids the obvious trappings of a man in power (although it does come close), instead using music and love as a way of escaping, while shining a light on the relationship between brothers (the film is dedicated to brothers).
With a top-notch soundtrack that manages to cover most of the key players of the 80’s from The Cure to Spandau Ballet to Hall and Oates, Carney interweaves enough comic invention from the inexperienced band trying to make a Rio style video on a grey cloudy beach, to Connor’s constant changing of attitude and costume to keep in line with the next musical star that his brother has fed him.
Then there is this sweet-natured, innocent love story between a man whose head is in the clouds and a girl who thinks that she is going to be shipped away by her older boyfriend, to the promise of a better life in England. Both Connor and Raphina seem to be living a lie and yet the similarities between them make them perfect for each other. You literally are screaming at the screen for the pair to get together. Even if the ending is slightly over romanticised, it still works because the rest of the movie is delightful. We even have a real underdog moment during a school dance, when Connor and his band break tradition and satirise the teacher that wants them to fail.
It is a film full of wonder with some lovely naturalistic performances from its young cast, It can even be forgiven for the blatant errors in the musical timeline (watching Top of the Pops in 1985 and having Duran Duran’s Rio playing). Carney has hit another home run with a film that will leave you smiling and remembering what it was like to fall in love for the first time all over again. Delightful.