24 April 2016
The best thing about John Carney’s latest musically saturated film is the music itself (some classics like Duran Duran plus quite a few originals). The plot is fairly tired (teenage misfits start a band to impress a girl) and the characters fairly conventional (troubled bad girl, disillusioned big brother) but the music, boy, the music is great. Against all reason, it kind of works thematically that the only thing special about the movie is the music. It’s the only thing that’s memorable and, ultimately, nothing else really matters because it’s all about the music, man- doesn’t that sound like something an 1980s Brit rocker would say? I don’t know; everything I know about 1980s British rock comes from movies like this.
The dedication at the end of the film says “For Brothers Everywhere”, which suggests to me that this was Carney’s ode to his cool big brother who introduced him to his favourite bands. As with most things, the film would have been better off if the writer had been able to part with his sentimental ties to the story. The brother character (played as a cartoon stoner by would-be dreamy Jack Reynor) is an uninspiring, uninteresting plot mover who says lines like “I don’t do words” and steals far too much screen time from the more interesting kids around him. The character I wanted more of was Mark McKenna’s improbably talented Eamon who conveniently plays every instrument and can write a great song to work with whatever random lyrics the less talented band members come up with. He responded to the line “would you help me write a song” with a simple “always” and I instantly wanted a movie about that songwriting relationship and what it is to be the talented one who is quite notably not the leading man.
The band’s ever-changing aesthetic identity (one day they dress like The Cure, another they’re Bowie) points to a larger issue with the film as a fun device that could be a fascinating character point if the movie was more interested in its characters and less caught up with overdone narratives (let’s escape small town life to London and really find our voice!). Ultimately, though, it all leads up to a 10 minute concert scene that’s good enough that it’s easy to forget that the men behind the music are not as interesting as the notes they’re singing.