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Attica

Sing Street

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So, I thought this was kind of great.  It was really fun in places, especially the video shoots, and it had a nice look at relationships.  The relationships between the siblings was handled nicely.

It really captured a living, breathing world (kind of like Once did, yet this on an obviously much bigger budget) and although there isn't as much music (and it isn't as great - probably intentionally), there was a love for music that was still apparent.  

Edited by Attica

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My review. In short, I was completely won over by its charms. It's a fairly simple and straightforward story, but due to John Carney's previous two films and their emphasis on the music over the romance, the direction this story takes and its emphasis on familial relationships was a pleasant surprise. The film doesn't give much attention to the other band members, but none of Carney's films have gone much that direction either. If you're having a rough week, this is the epitome of a "feel good" film without ever feeling mawkish or melodramatic. It's Irish teenagers in the 1980s making music, and it's delightful.

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I agree with both Chris and Joel here.  Evidently, this is Carney's most personal film of his music-themed triptych, since he's a grad from the same school as his protagonist, among other things.  The family turmoil is much more vivid here than in "Begin Again," but it still has oodles of playful humor, an overall sense of optimism, and a group of sympathetically painted characters.  Yep, it won me over, too.  Here's my review:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/2016/05/sing-street-a-song-of-musical-salvation-in-1980s-ireland/

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Posted (edited)

So…I'm the only one so far who finds the physically abusive, probably-child-molester priest and the overall Catholic-negativity to be even a caveat in a "feel-good" film? 

Edited by SDG

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3 minutes ago, SDG said:

So…I'm the only one so far who finds the physically abusive, probably-child-molester priest and the overall Catholic-negativity to be even a caveat in a "feel-good" film? 

I think Victor tweeted something to that effect when this came out. FWIW, it was enough to keep it out of my top ten.

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I also recall Victor's tweets about that. The bitter Catholic priest/nun at a school trope is certainly tired and overdone. Yet it's a story full of those sorts of teen film tropes: angry bully, quirky best friend, a seemingly-unattainable love interest, self-absorbed/clueless parents, etc. That's not an argument for the film necessarily, but I do wonder if those tropes are quite intentional, making it a Very Teen Film. I'm a fan of the teen film genre, so I found it more affecting than annoying or frustrating.

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I said it on Twitter, so I'll say it here: Whoever played the older brother in this film immediately struck me as a cross between Seth Rogen and Chris Pratt.

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Posted (edited)

You notice that the priest isn't just angry/physically abusive, but probably a sex offender as well.

He specifically admires Conor's "pretty" features, gives him a pat on the cheek — and then calls him into his private washroom to wash off his makeup. And Conor may know it — it may not be merely youthful rebellion that prompts Conor to walk out of his office at that moment. (Nor is it merely anger at Conor's defiance that prompts the priest to chase after him and violently half-drown him washing off his makeup.) 

Edited by SDG

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Posted (edited)

Also, significantly, the angry bully trope is subverted: The bullying skinhead character is ultimately redeemed. So is the seemingly-unattainable love interest trope (subverted, I mean); Raphina turns out to be considerably more vulnerable and broken than most teen-movie fantasy love interests. The self-absorbed/clueless parents trope isn't necessarily subverted, but the movie doesn't end by giving them a middle finger either. 

Edited by SDG

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In this interview, John Carney states that Brother Baxter was based on a real teacher at Synge Street:   "There was a guy, Brother Byrne. I’m not even remotely scared of saying who he was because he was a vicious thug and I couldn’t care if he sues me. It was based on him. He was a guy I’d just see pummeling kids, just punching them in the face. It was brutal."


 

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3 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

I also recall Victor's tweets about that. The bitter Catholic priest/nun at a school trope is certainly tired and overdone. Yet it's a story full of those sorts of teen film tropes: angry bully, quirky best friend, a seemingly-unattainable love interest, self-absorbed/clueless parents, etc. That's not an argument for the film necessarily, but I do wonder if those tropes are quite intentional, making it a Very Teen Film. I'm a fan of the teen film genre, so I found it more affecting than annoying or frustrating.

I concur. If the movie were set in a public school, it would be Ferris Bueller Starts a Band and Brother Baxter would be Ed Rooney. As SDG notes, it is implied that Baxter is also a pedophile, but it is not explicit or belabored. However, what is tired is that there seem to be only two types of school/teacher stories: either teachers are horrid/oppressive/bumbling OR they are brilliant/compassionate/saviors (and probably oppressed by the other kind). The extremes tend to be most memorable, I guess, and Carney is working from memory.

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2 hours ago, SDG said:

Also, significantly, the angry bully trope is subverted: The bullying skinhead character is ultimately redeemed. So is the seemingly-unattainable love interest trope (subverted, I mean); Raphina turns out to be considerably more vulnerable and broken than most teen-movie fantasy love interests. The self-absorbed/clueless parents trope isn't necessarily subverted, but the movie doesn't end by giving them a middle finger either. 

I loved that the bully trope was redeemed, in pretty powerful way. FWIW, like many teen films, all of the adults in this movie simply are absent and neglectful (at best) or abusive and oppressive (at worst). I'm not counting Conor's brother as an adult in this instance, though he technically would be in terms of legal status. I do see the suggested pedophile status of the priest, and I think Conor sees it too, which is exactly why he walks out of the office. But it may be an accurate portrayal in Carney's memory, and the priest character fits within the story of a young teen surrounded by various afflictions from broken adults.

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Posted (edited)

35 minutes ago, BethR said:

 However, what is tired is that there seem to be only two types of school/teacher stories: either teachers are horrid/oppressive/bumbling OR they are brilliant/compassionate/saviors (and probably oppressed by the other kind). 

Woody Harrelson's character in Edge of Seventeen would break that stereotype.

Edited by kenmorefield

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Posted (edited)

3 hours ago, Andrew said:

In this interview, John Carney states that Brother Baxter was based on a real teacher at Synge Street:   "There was a guy, Brother Byrne. I’m not even remotely scared of saying who he was because he was a vicious thug and I couldn’t care if he sues me. It was based on him. He was a guy I’d just see pummeling kids, just punching them in the face. It was brutal."

I suspected that this was the case. I am curious whether Carney would say he knows or suspects that Brother Byrne was a sex offender. 

Artists shape their work in a particular way for particular reasons. Saying that there was a real-life basis for Brother Baxter doesn't change the fact that the film comes off as lapsed-Catholic bitter — and that this interferes with my enjoyment of the film's more winsome elements. I would be surprised if Carney wouldn't self-identify as a bitter lapsed Catholic. (I admit I could be surprised. But I don't think I would be. That's why it would surprise me.) 

Edited by SDG

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"Lapsed-Catholic bitter" versus semi-autobiographical Bildungsroman by a fellow who witnessed repeated physical abuse by an ecclesiastical authority figure in his younger years.  The latter characterization seems more accurate to me.  In actuality, I'd say Sing Street's lead character was remarkably resilient and un-bitter given the circumstances arrayed against him both at home and at school. 

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I see nothing unbitter in the portrayal of Catholicism. If the final musical number — with the Brother Baxter masks! — isn't a middle finger to the Church, I'm not sure what would be. 

Note that Catholic sexual morality is blamed for the breakup of the family, or rather for their ill-advised wedding, since they didn't love each other and only wanted to have sex. 

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I don't know if I'd go so far to say it's a middle finger to the Church - to Brother Baxter unquestionably, and probably to the school as well. Admittedly Brother Baxter is the only representative of the Church in the film, but I still hesitate to say the film's attitude toward him is its attitude toward the Church as a whole. As far as I recall, the latter isn't really brought up at all. Also, it's worth nothing that the film does extend a little good will to Brother Baxter in the Back to the Future fantasy, which is easily the best scene in the film.

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kenmorefield wrote:
: Woody Harrelson's character in Edge of Seventeen would break that stereotype.

"*This* is the face of hope."

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It's a sensitive subject, so hopefully this is read with a tone of grace, but if Carney saw/experienced physical or sexual abuse from Catholic priests in his own life, and wrote a similar Catholic priest character within the film, then this may be similar to what Conor himself does--he experienced pain and frustration at the hands of adults who should have been role models and guides, and that pain prompted him to create art. Maybe the final song with masks is a middle finger to the Catholic Church (I didn't see it that way); if so, Carney may have significant reasons for doing so. If there's anything Carney is openly criticizing here, it's the entire nation of Ireland. He's made three films now where the musical protagonist *can't wait* to get off the island so they can actually have a semi-normal life.

40 minutes ago, Evan C said:

I don't know if I'd go so far to say it's a middle finger to the Church - to Brother Baxter unquestionably, and probably to the school as well. Admittedly Brother Baxter is the only representative of the Church in the film, but I still hesitate to say the film's attitude toward him is its attitude toward the Church as a whole. As far as I recall, the latter isn't really brought up at all. Also, it's worth nothing that the film does extend a little good will to Brother Baxter in the Back to the Future fantasy, which is easily the best scene in the film.

There is one other priest character in the film, an elderly teacher who seems clueless and begins teaching the wrong subject to the boys. I do think the presence of Brother Baxter in the fantasy scene is important, just as Conor's parents in that scene are important--he's imagining a world as he hoped it should be, where priests and parents are upstanding heroes.

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Posted (edited)

FWIW SDG, it is for literally all the reasons that you mentioned that I was in a debate with my brother (who began entering the seminary last year) over the films' negative portrayal of Catholicism. I personally found the films' altogether negative portrayal - with the one exception being in (what is significantly) a "fantasy/perfect world" sequence - of Catholicism to be a strong caveat in a film that really had a lot going for it. My brother was able to bracket the anti-Catholic elements in a way that I found I could not. He felt that the "1980's Irish counter-cultural context" was an understandable backdrop for the villainous portrayal of Brother Baxter and the negative youthful attitude towards the faith, but his more relaxed take wasn't enough to encourage me to give the film a place on my end-of-year honourable mentions list.

Edited by Benchwarmer

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On 1/7/2017 at 2:10 PM, kenmorefield said:

Woody Harrelson's character in Edge of Seventeen would break that stereotype.

And I missed that one in theaters, but want to see it when I can.

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On 1/7/2017 at 9:34 PM, SDG said:

I see nothing unbitter in the portrayal of Catholicism. If the final musical number — with the Brother Baxter masks! — isn't a middle finger to the Church, I'm not sure what would be. 

Note that Catholic sexual morality is blamed for the breakup of the family, or rather for their ill-advised wedding, since they didn't love each other and only wanted to have sex. 

 

On 1/7/2017 at 11:41 PM, Benchwarmer said:

My brother was able to bracket the anti-Catholic elements in a way that I found I could not. He felt that the "1980's Irish counter-cultural context" was an understandable backdrop for the villainous portrayal of Brother Baxter and the negative youthful attitude towards the faith, but his more relaxed take wasn't enough to encourage me to give the film a place on my end-of-year honourable mentions list.

Right, this is such a glaring effect of the film that it has to be intentional by the writers - in that even if Brother Baxter an unconscious ghost of his experiences of the Church or a particular representative, the film's plot pivots distinctly on the two points SDG mentions above (Brother Baxter's inflexibility and divorce). I suppose one could chalk this up in part to an attempt to enhance the New Wave veneer of the film, which requires an anti-authoritarian streak for which Brother Baxter is a handy target (straight from the pages of Carney's own biography). But the film conflates the sexual and gender exploration of the New Wave into Brother Baxter's seeming potential for sexual violence, and I really detest that kind of ill-defined subtext as it creates its own sort of violence.

--

But, there is something wonderful about the film despite this flaw. Carney is at his best when working with inversions of typical plot beats.. My favorite element of Sing Street has to do with the young brother/older brother relationship which, contrary to the way this relationship fizzles out in so many scripts, ends up becoming a life-begetting, tear-jerking affair. In full disclosure, I had a near identical experience with a brother introducing me to the New Wave, pushing me out of the nest, etc... (Even down to being given albums and being schooled on why they were so important; my bro could do the Patrick Bateman Huey Lewis bit long before BEE was writing.) My relationship with my oldest brother ended up much differently, in absolute tragedy. But what I think about most about our relationship is our mutual sense of discovery, desire to shed the more painful aspects of our family history, and a hard to pin down trust that outsized, emotional music had something to do with teaching us how to thrive. 

So big brother has his speech in Sing Street, which is perfectly executed. I have heard versions of this speech before. And so is the love we see in big brother taking up the cause of little brother without envy, sorrow, or trepidation. We see here a perfect love, a brotherly covenant, casting out fear. Even if I really don't like the form of the ending here (green screen, fans, buckets of water, etc...). Carney nails something vital about older brothers here, which is their capacity to be one of the most powerful forces in the universe.

Edited by M. Leary

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21 hours ago, M. Leary said:

 

 

So big brother has his speech in Sing Street, which is perfectly executed. I have heard versions of this speech before. And so is the love we see in big brother taking up the cause of little brother without envy, sorrow, or trepidation. We see here a perfect love, a brotherly covenant, casting out fear. Even if I really don't like the form of the ending here (green screen, fans, buckets of water, etc...). Carney nails something vital about older brothers here, which is their capacity to be one of the most powerful forces in the universe.

Not to sound like a broken record, but please go see EDGE OF SEVENTEEN if you haven't.

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