Category Archives: Teen Drama

Sing Street

singstreetWhat Jesse said:

You need to watch Sing Street. Just saw it and it is awesome. Homage to the mid-80s. Was made last year and it’s set in Ireland. Dublin. Awesome scene where main character’s (15 year old kid) older [brother] is educating him and their father on the power of the “music video” and the world-changing awesomeness of Duran Duran.

Mike’s verdict:

That grammar-free stream of consciousness mess is all Jesse saw fit to give me. No hint at a plot. No indication of thematic direction. Not even a genre! So it was with a tremendous amount of faith in Jesse’s judgement that I sat down to watch Sing Street.  And minutes in the film it became clear why Jesse had avoided telling me about the story: it’s just another boy-comes-of-age film.

You know the story; you’ve seen it many times: an adolescent boy struggles with a tough but caring home life, a bully at his new school, and an abusive authority figure, all while trying to make sense of a girl – and of course he finds himself in the process.

<sigh> This movie has been done to death.

But nevermind all that; you should watch Sing Street anyway because it is fantastic.  I don’t know where or when Jesse watched this film, but I do know exactly at which points he cheered, laughed, shook his head in dismay, and cringed – because there are moments that are universal to every teen boy.  Details may differ, situations are exaggerated, and the results are unlikely, but the feelings are spot-on.

This film is hopeful all the way through, in a sense that many of this genre fail to be. It doesn’t need overwhelming hardship to make its point. The protagonist struggles meaningfully but realistically, and over comes his life in ways that most boys can only do in day-dreams. Yet as the credits roll, the viewer is left with the sense that while the hero has managed to win in the first chapter of his life, there is still very real potential for disaster to come in the next. Struggle is balance with success, tipping only slightly under the weight of the unknown future.

The story is helped along well by reliable acting – perhaps not surprisingly all the school-age boys are very believable as school-age boys. Even the cleverer bits of dialog seem natural. It’s also supplemented by light symbolism that subtly adds dept: “You can’t put rabbits on the bed and not expect them to shit on your bed.” is surely an apt metaphor for life.

The backdrop to all this is a soundtrack that aggressively makes itself a part of the narrative when its needed, or slips subtly into ambiance when its not. There is a deliberate contrast between songs used in their original 80s glory, followed by quiet piano arrangements that feel timeless. It’s easy to forget that this is a contemporary film.  That is, at least until you realize that it understands the 80s music revolution far better than anyone in the 80s ever could have.

Sing Street is a thoughtful and original take on a very over-done genre. But most importantly, its enjoyable – it uses only the cliches that it needs to lay the foundation, and then layers a tapestry of commercial and original music that revives the 80s perfectly. Jesse absolutely got this one right.

10/10

p.s. It’s definitely worth sitting through the short credits to hear the last bit of music.


The Fault in Our Stars

What Jesse said:

So I get dragged out to watch a chickflick with the wife and as it turns out… not a bad movie. It’s called The Fault in Our Stars and it stars Shailene Woodley who I thought was fantastic in 2013’s The Spectacular Now. The movie has a decent balance of funny and sad moments and the performances are pretty tight. Go watch it.

Mike’s verdict:

Subsequent discussions have left me with the distinct impression that Jesse was not so much “dragged” to this movie, and he thinks more of it than the ‘not a bad movie’ comment suggests. I mostly agree with him – it’s not a bad movie. It’s not a great movie either.

Woodley does an ‘okay’ (you’ll get the pun later) job here, and she definitely fits better in this movie than in the universally mis-casted Divergent. (There’s no review of Divergent because Jesse still refuses to admit that he was first in line to see it.) But there’s nothing remarkable about this film. It’s the kind of movie that my mother recommends to me because she caught most of it on TV on a Sunday afternoon in between trips to the laundry room.  Some things happen to two kids who only know each other because they both picked the short straw when life was handing out healthy bodies. And those things teach the kids about life.

In one sentence: this movie is The Spectacular Now for kids with cancer. But where The Spectacular Now felt real, this one just feels like a movie. Yes, the kids are plain but everything else is Hollywood – every character is good or bad, every problem is simple or impossible. There’s not enough grayzone.

I really liked Willem Dafoe in this though – his character was by far the most interesting and he was completely believable as the cranky old man trying to escape humanity. I haven’t read the book, but I’m willing to bet that Peter Van Houten is better developed in it, and I’m disappointed the writers of the film didn’t take him further.

One thing that really bothered me was the poorly chosen ending. By about half way through the story you realize that there is exactly one way the story has to come to a close, and unfortunately director Josh Boone failed to notice it. Maybe he thought it would be too obvious. I think he just didn’t fully understand the message.

Either way, The Fault in Our Stars is adequately entertaining, non-controversial and benign, but you’re going to forget about it as soon you turn it off.

5/10

p.s. If you’re curious, Woodley didn’t let Miles Teller ride her coat-tails into this movie – they must have been having an off week.


The Spectacular Now

What Jesse said:

Got another one fer ya. It’s called “The Spectacular Now“.  [The wife] and I really enjoyed it. Great story, solid performances.  Go see it mofo.

Mike’s verdict:

The Spectacular Now has all the hallmarks of a stereotypical high school coming of age movie. The popular boy is dumped by the popular girl, only to find something better in the “plain” girl he never noticed before. There are parties and a prom. There is the teacher that really cares, the useless father, and the good intentioned but misguided mothers who just don’t understand. And, of course, there is graduation.

But unlike the typical high school coming of age movie, The Spectacular Now feels real. It doesn’t remind you of all the high school movies you’ve seen, it reminds you of high school.

Foremost, the casting is believable – Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley actually come across as real high school kids. They’re not made to look perfect from every angle. They don’t talk about their lives using the vocabulary of an English literature grad student. And the “plain” girl doesn’t take off her glasses to reveal a supermodel when the popular boy starts paying attention to her.  Instead, this is the entirely likely story of a young man and a young woman, both of whom are confronted by the reality of their lives and honestly try to make the best of them. Their choices are often short-sighted, but they never portray the over-the-top irrationality that most hollywood teen movies rely on.

There is a relentless intensity of nervous energy that falls somewhere between anxiety for what might happen to Aimee and the anticipation of Sutter’s next mistake – and it’s made all the more potent by the film’s realism.

9/10