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Sing Street’ gets by on enthusiasm and catchy tunes

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Youth gone wild: The aspiring rockers of Sing Street.

Three and a half stars

Sing Street Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Aidan Gillen. Directed by John Carney. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday at Century Suncoast.

Any movie about young people in Ireland forming a band exists in the mighty shadow of 1991’s The Commitments, the most joyous paean to musical appropriation ever made. If anybody could largely skirt that problem, though, it’s John Carney, a former rock musician (his band was The Frames) who turned to filmmaking and specializes in music-related stories (Once, Begin Again). Sing Street, Carney’s latest effort, tells the semi-autobiographical tale of his teenage adventures at Dublin’s Synge Street school, and while its characters aren’t as memorable as The Commitments’ Jimmy Rabbitte and company, it manages to tap into a similar vein of sheer pop enthusiasm, shifted to a wildly different musical genre.

Not that Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), the film’s protagonist, has any particular plan in mind at the outset. Having just transferred to Synge Street, he spots a beautiful girl named Raphina (Lucy Boynton) on the street and attempts to get her phone number by suggesting she star in the music video for his band. She tentatively agrees, little realizing that Conor’s band exists in his imagination. He speedily rectifies this, drafting several other misfits to play cover versions of songs by the likes of Duran Duran and The Cure. Conor’s older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor), however, insists that the band write its own tunes.

Oddly, it’s Brendan—a relatively minor character—who provides Sing Street with its most powerful moments; the film is ostensibly a romance, but sneaks in a more affecting story of a young man who knows he’s squandered his potential and doesn’t want to see his brother make the same mistake. (Reynor, who’s in the running to play the young Han Solo, is tremendous in the role.) The songs are pretty great, too, though (arguably too great, given that they’re supposed to have been written by kids), and Carney has a lot of fun tracking the way that Conor and his mates continually modify their look in response to various New Wave fashion trends of the mid-’80s. Sing Street isn’t likely to spawn two hit soundtrack albums and a tour, as The Commitments did, but it does provide a little bit of soul, however plastic.

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