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Review: Rock ’n’ roll ’n’ love ’n’ youth ’n’ charm

  • WEINSTEIN COMPANY

    A motley group of kids led by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo starts a band in working-class Ireland in the 1980s.

“Sing Street”

Rated PG-13

***

Opens today at Kahala 8

John Carney’s “Sing Street,” about troubled Irish schoolkids who form a band in 1985, has enough charms to overcome its prefab material. The director’s skill pushes what could have been the same old song into a likable testament to the saving powers of young love and rock ’n’ roll.

The mid-’80s date is important — it establishes the musical period (Duran Duran and other New Romantic bands), and the tough economic times that saw many Irish heading to London for better prospects.

Because his parents have been losing work, 14-year-old Connor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), who looks a bit like an adolescent Paul McCartney, is sent to a less expensive, more rough-and- tumble school — which happens to be located on Dublin’s Synge Street. Connor is catnip to the new school’s ample supply of bullies.

He handles the tough kids with surprising equanimity, meanwhile noticing a beautiful young woman, Raphina (Lucy Boynton), who lives near the school. To catch her eye, he uses the time-tested strategy of putting together a rock band, and among his first recruits is Eamon (Mark McKenna, the Lennon to Connor’s McCartney), a fellow student who happens to have all the required instruments.

One of the film’s best scenes follows as the fledgling band sets out to make a video of their unintentionally daffy song “The Riddle of the Model,” with Raphina as the glam girl. She offers grooming and costuming tips to these sad-sack youngsters, and it all adds up to a nice parody of the pretensions and plain silliness of the Spandau Ballet era.

Filmmaker Carney knows the territory: He attended a similar school in Dublin, and became bassist for The Frames, Glen Hansard’s band. Switching to movies, Carney won acclaim in 2006 with “Once,” a very good musical drama starring Hansard. In “Sing Street,” he doesn’t ignore the foibles of his young rockers, but is filled with obvious affection for them.

Among several more melancholy strains are the presence of Connor’s older brother, a college dropout and wannabe rocker, who hangs around the house smoking dope, but redeems himself by mentoring the boy. In addition, the headmaster of Connor’s school is a nasty piece of work, but he gets a comic comeuppance when the youngsters play their first public gig.

It’s best not to question the plausibility of all this — the film is a wish fulfillment and an exercise in nostalgia. Don’t be deterred by the time-worn material — as a romantic vision of youth and rock, “Sing Street” is No. 1 with a bullet.

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