First one’s a charm

I have heard great things about John Carney’s latest movie, Sing Street. Not only has it received a lot of warm praise from reviewers but from fans of his too, so I am looking forward to getting the chance to see it.

I remember a few years ago when, Begin Again was released, it took me a while to get around to watching it – I think it was eventually as a 99c movie – and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The premise of the movie was pretty straight forward. A girl musician (Kiera Knightly) moves to USA with her boyfriend who has just got a record deal and who dumps her almost immediately. Meanwhile, a washed up record producer (Mark Ruffalo) with a string of flops under his belt is looking for a breakthrough act to save his skin. Just before she leave the US, she is coaxed into singing one last song, he is in the audience and bingo.

If the story sounds cliched, it is even less so than the plot of Once, the first film in the loose trilogy by the film maker that has culminated in Sing Street. Yet, despite the fact that you could write the plots of both movies on the back of a napkin with your eyes shut, the storytelling and the music that is at the beating heart of each film is what make them both such a joy to watch.

Unlike many people, who found Begin Again a disappointing follow up to Once, I had the advantage of seeing then in reverse order, so had no expectations to disappoint. Once is set in Dublin and is as stripped bare as the fortunes of the two musicians at its story’s centre. The two first movies share a couple of common themes: characters who love music, who are struggling to get by and manage life while being driven by their passion for song. In both films, the male is at the centre of the industrial aspects of the music, but it is the women who provide the inspiration and the magic that lifts the songs to another level. Then, of course there is the all important UST (unresolved sexual tension). These are not movies about how love affairs between a man and a woman occur, but why they don’t – and with a better outcome for both characters.

So Once opens with our hero busking on Grafton Street, Dublin playing the popular tunes, except later at night when he belts out one of his own songs to a street that is all but empty. The only member of his audience, a young woman from the Czech Republic throws 10c in his case and they strike up a conversation, which leads to a brief friendship and musical partnership.

If I was using my BING-O-METRE for all the cinematic shorthand cliches in Once, I would be binging more than a Crosby at Xmas, but the storytelling is almost secondary to the performance of the leads, their fragile and growing – if impossible – relationship and the moment in time that they spend together to create something extraordinary that lifts their experience out of the mundane and grim business of day-to-day survival doing manual jobs and living hand to mouth. It is the start of both their stories, perhaps; a story you can imagine either of the characters looking back on when they are older, about one magical week in Dublin when it all came together just once.

There is also a lovely scene with the lead character and his father sitting in the kitchen towards the end of the movie, where more is said in the gaps between the conversation than with the words that come out.

Finally, and most importantly, at the movie’s heart (and it is a movie with heart in spades)  is the original music, which is haunting and heartfelt, engaging and beautiful and which ultimately transforms the film as it does the story of the two main leads, into something really special.

Available at the time of writing on Netflix Australia.


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