Boy meets girl, girl unimpressed, boy starts band
Going 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 uber-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. Combining Carney’s trademark warmth and humor with a punk rock edge, and featuring a memorable soundtrack with hits from The Cure, Duran Duran, The Police, and Genesis, SING STREET is an electrifying coming-of-age film that will resonate with music fans across the board.
The origins of SING STREET go back many years to the director’s life as a teenager in 1980s Dublin. John Carney experienced growing up in the Irish Capital by moving from private school to an inner city comprehensive. It ultimately became the seed of an idea to create a musical film about this period in his life.
Having directed the Oscar®-winning musical film ONCE and then BEGIN AGAIN, both with extensive musical threads throughout, Carney felt the time was right to make something musical that was even more personal – something solidly autobiographical.
“I didn’t want to just be doing a musical story for the sake of it. I wanted to try and find something in my life that I’d be interested in doing and talking about. I wanted it to be something that was genuine and personal.”
Carney had previously worked with producer Anthony Bregman on the New York-set feature film BEGIN AGAIN starring Kiera Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, the director discussed with him the idea of building a story around his own experiences growing up in Dublin.
“He just told me this story over coffee,” says Bregman. “In fact, it’s pretty close to what the story is right now, about this kid whose father loses his job and where money is very tight. He gets taken out of his posh school and into the very rough Synge Street School where he immediately gets beaten up and where others take advantage of him. He forms a band, basically to protect himself and also to attract the interest of this very pretty girl he can’t otherwise get traction with.”
Both a rites of passage story with strong romantic elements and a film built on the musical foundations of 1980s British bands, SING STREET delivers an honest and moving perspective on the perils and wonders of teenage life.
For Bregman, the idea of a fresh and yet innocent romance blossoming between the two lead characters, was a dynamic he had not seen in filmmaking for long time. ”The relationship between Conor and Raphina is interesting because it doesn’t really get consummated in any real way,” He explains. “She’s gorgeous and older, more sophisticated, and is off on her own, living her own life. He is still very much forming as a character. From the very beginning, when he approaches her, it’s clear that he’s reaching above his grade for her.”
Alongside this romance, Carney also focuses on the complexities of marriages breaking down in Ireland during this period. Divorce was not allowed in Ireland at the time. As the parents’ relationship breaks down, the impact on the children is profound.
“There are a lot of strains on Conor’s parents’ marriage; among them that they came from a period of time where you couldn’t have sex outside marriage,” says Bregman. “So the parents got married too soon, for the wrong reason, and then they couldn’t separate, because at this point it was very taboo to divorce. The most they could do was separate.
“They’re locked in a marriage where they’re not happy with each other or with the situation and that filters down to the kids. It creates a toxic atmosphere, and that is what initiates the story.”
For Carney the film is also a story of contrasts – the contrast of Ireland versus England, Dublin versus London, and the safety of a private education versus one in the state system. But most importantly for Carney, it was the contrast of a young teenage boy who thinks he has problems until those problems are far outweighed by those of the girl he meets and ultimately falls for.
“It’s really a ‘before and after’ story, which is set in 80s Dublin,” Carney explains. “It was a time of recession and immigration and a time when even the very rich or those who should have had money, didn’t have cash, and were forced to think a little bit differently in terms of what clothes they wore, how they expressed themselves through how they looked.”