Drive It Like You Stole It: the Riddle of Sing Street and the Happy-Sad

If you want me to go see your movie, all you have to do is play the Jam in the trailer. It’s that simple. I’ll probably go see you’re damn movie. So when I saw a trailer for Sing Street touting music from both the Jam AND the Clash, I immediately looked up the U.S. release date. Oh, yeah, it’s an Irish movie and independent, so you’re looking at limited release venues (Arclight and the like).

Upon rereading this, I realized it isn’t a review exactly (I have yet to write a proper review, huh? I do apologize). It’s a bit of a sneak peak into my brain and how it works (and doesn’t). Because this movie hit every pressure point and left me begging for more.

From my perspective, there were some very relatable moments in the film. I realize that this particular flick will not be everyone’s brand of brake fluid, but if you’ve ever wanted to make something: music, movies, anything creative, you should probably check this out.

I gave up on my rock star dreams pretty quick. I still love all my classic rock and mod bands, but I recognized that that wasn’t my calling. Before that I had tried acting for 7 years, which ended in frustration. But the writing, that seems to be working out pretty well for me. Anyway, the point the movie makes is, if you want to do anything creative, you have to take a risk. Just dive in (quite literally in the film), and you may get yourself killed in the process, but you may not. You may keep your head above water, swim, and eventually sail away. Into what? Well, the future. Whatever that may be.

Which goes hand in hand with the second relatability factor. When you’re making art (or for that matter, imagining how a scene in your life may play out), you can visualize in your head exactly what you want it to look like and/or sound like. That’s not going to happen. No matter how gorgeous you have it in your head, there’s no way to make it turn out like that. THAT’S TOTALLY OKAY. The important thing is to do it anyway. Don’t stop creating, just because you don’t have exactly what you think you need. And don’t stop dreaming on that large a scale.

Then there’s the school thing. I went to Catholic school, so I have a some personal experience there too. It wasn’t as bad as in this film. It was at least co-ed, and my principle never tried to drown me (there were also some undertones alluding to the potentiality of rape in Sing Street too, but luckily it never went that far). The thing that did hit home is that these sorts of schools are not generally a great place to cultivate creativity and individuality. You have to wear a uniform, learn when to sit, stand, and kneel (that last one’s more a Church thing, but tangentially connected), but if the other kids are being cruel to you or treating you unfairly, the staff don’t intervene. Even if you tell an authority figure what’s been happening, you might jut be out of luck. The first time I heard the saying “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was from my first grade teacher. And yeah, in case you were wondering, she was a nun. The culture shock when I went to an arts high school was severe, but in a very positive way (but THIS led to my failed acting career, so it may not be the BEST example).

The other relatable topic I wanted to note was the family. Not so much the arguing parents, but when the *slight spoiler* inevitable separation comes (divorce was not legal in Ireland in 1985, the year the film takes place), the reactions of the 3 kids were accurate, and what the resulting fall out could be like. The house you grew up in is sold. You have to face living between two places. You have to accept that your parents are human. The only people going through this exact situation are your siblings. In the film, the main kid, Conor, has a brother and a sister. Each of the children represents a different approach to life: Conor is making his decision as the story unfolds, eventually going after a dream. Then there’s Brendan, the brother, who Conor has a very close relationship with, but comes to realize sees himself as a failed burn out who could have gone somewhere and didn’t. Finally we have Ann, the super responsible sister, who denies any creative tendencies, but is suggested to have had them, only to leave them ignored. Ann was one character that I really wish we had gotten more of, but I see where her path might deter from the central story. The scene that eventually got the waterworks going is one where Conor and Ann seek refuge in the Brendan’s room, while the parents are having a particularly nasty argument (this happens not long before they announce the separation). Brendan is blasting music and he and Conor are dancing around the room, while Ann is curled up watching them; enjoying the scene, but not joining in, until her brothers pull her up off the couch to dance with them. The parents can still be heard screaming at each other, but the music at least drowns it out a bit, and in that moment the siblings form a united front against the angry hateful world outside. I have a younger brother, and while I don’t think my personality is much like Brendan’s, the way he feels about his brother is so spot on, I have trouble expressing just how much it resinated. Tear stung eyes. Brendan is a fantastic character.

In the moments I was choking back tears, I glanced around at the rest of the audience, and every person in there was wiping their eyes, or sniffling, or doing the shoulder shake you do when you’re having a proper cry. And maybe I had to hang out in a bathroom stall for a little while after the movie, so I could cry privately. I even overheard two girls nearby. One said, “you look high,” and her friend responded, “oh, you mean because my eyes are all red from the crying?”

This is not to suggest that the film is not uproariously funny, as well. And it really does make you feel good. I have yet to mention what are arguably the two main elements: the band, and the girl that makes it happen. The band are the misfits from the neighborhood and so funny, so droll, so charming, they win you over immediately. While their taste and style is ridiculous in the beginning, their daring starts to pay off and, dare I say it, they even start to look cool. Conor, especially, starts to wear make-up, and style his hair outrageously, and they all start dressing as much like 80’s rock stars as they can on their shoestring budgets. Even the tormenting bully becomes their roadie by the end.

The love interest is pretty wonderful too. As is necessary. A wannabe model, she’s the muse for all the original songs (which I immediately bought when I got home from the theater), and her appearance in the awkward music videos is one the the few strong points the band has going for them when they start out. She’s willing to go as far as they need her to. Even when they don’t know what they need from her, she recognizes it, and takes them there. Her own tragic backstory, and unwillingness to let it define her, reminds Conor that he too can be whatever he chooses, and makes of himself. It’s not the first film with this message, but it one that delivers it well. It’s some uplifting stuff.

How do I even wrap this up? As I have to make decisions about just what direction I’m gonna go with my risk-taking, I’m reminded again that it doesn’t have to be a death march. It can be an adventure. So I highly recommend Sing Street. And there’s a good chance it will make you cry, and stick with you long after it’s over, but it’s also ridiculously good fun, with a lot of heart and humor. Just like life. I promise.


About Risa Romano

Writer type thing. I work on stories for kids when I'm on the clock and screenplays quite a bit less for kids when I'm not. I have a blog: I'm also the creator and moderator of the Doctor Who vodcast/podcast A Disused Yeti:
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