The Co’s Katherine Gougeon explores social and cultural details that have an outsized ripple effect. Follow her on Twitter @kgougeon

Memorabilia is a double-edged sword. You pack it away thinking, one day it will offer a return ticket to youth, a remembrance of fabulousness past.  And then One Day comes, and everything in that cardboard box makes you cringe.

This is especially true if you came of age in the eighties.

Scrunchies and shoulder pads. Big hair and Cosby sweaters. Cell phones the size of toasters.  The years have not been kind, and we have the homage flicks – Hot Tub Time Machine, American Psycho, Showgirls, The Wedding Singer, The Wolf of Wall Street – to prove it.  These iconic films make the eighties feel like a lost decade: tried and convicted in the court of pop culture for crimes of excess.

This is why Sing Street, John Carney’s loosely autobiographical movie about growing up in economically recessed Dublin, is a game-changer: it reminds us the eighties had a soul.

The film tells the story of Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a 14 year old whose estranged, cash-strapped parents transfer him from private school to the Catholic local where he gets tangled in the crosshairs of the resident bully and a brutish headmaster. Things look up when he meets Raphina (Lucy Boynton), an aspiring model whom he strives to impress by forming a band whose original songs sound compellingly familiar.


With its ensemble cast of non-actors and simple sets, Sing Street is the opposite of slick or stylized. Carney’s 1985 takes its cultural and aesthetic cues from well-worn Spandau Ballet LPs, wall art ripped from teen magazines, and pixilated Duran Duran videos piped into shabby living rooms via crappy TV sets.

“When you don’t have money you use your imagination. I wanted to explore that,” Carney explained in an interview with Indiewire, “I wanted the film to look like the kids themselves had made it.”

And this is why Sing Street succeeds on an authentic and soulful level. It explores the eighties as a catalyst for self-expression versus consumption. Though I grew up middle class in Montreal, Carney’s version of 1985 is exactly how I remember it. It was about thrifting for Depeche Mode-inspired duster coats and Robert Smith preacher hats, experimenting with heavy makeup and industrial strength hair gel, pining for a life less ordinary, and of course, immersing in the music that propelled the entire experience.

Beyond joyously redeeming the eighties, Sing Street does what a memory is supposed to do: give you proud ownership of your past. Yes, you were there. And it was definitely cool.