At times hilarious, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful, Sing Street knows exactly what its like to be 15. 

Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) has been told he has to switch schools.His parents, whose marriage is clearly on the rocks, say it will save some money as they’re facing tough times. It’s Ireland in 1985, and Conor seems to go from a private school to a poorer public school, and he’s a fish out of water right away. These kids are rougher and make it impossible for him to fit in. He has a few run-ins with the school bully.

And then there’s that moment you might expect a 15-year-old boy to have: he spots the 4-5 starsbeautiful girl he instantly falls in love with and tries to figure out how he could possibly talk to her. The scene perfectly captures the struggle to play it cool on the outside while bursting with excitement and anxiety on the inside. Instead of asking her out, he invites her to be in a music video for his band, which doesn’t exist. When she agrees, he realizes he has to start a band.

Conor enlists the help of Eamon (Mark McKenna), a quiet, nerdy kid who happens to be able to play pretty much any instrument. Eamon is simultaneously shy and desperate to be a rock star. They have complimentary skills and work very well together. They record a few covers on a tape deck, but when Conor plays them for his hipster older brother Brendan, he’s told real artists write and perform originals. He idolizes his older brother, who at 21, has some problems, still lives at home, and has forceful opinions about what makes music great.

So the kids start writing and recording original songs. At first, I thought the music in Sing Street was a problem because it’s so good. They’re awkward teenagers trying to find themselves, wearing funny costumes and make-up, but when the music starts, their originals sound like they could actually be classic 80s songs.

After a couple of their originals, I wondered if maybe writer/director John Carney, creator of the Oscar-winning musical Once just couldn’t help himself. Maybe he’s too talented to create a song that actually sounds like it was written and performed by average teenagers. But as the movie went on, it’s only when Conor and the others are playing music that they see the best version of themselves. When they’re playing, they see themselves as who they want to be, and–it makes sense– they hear themselves how they want to be heard. This is pretty much confirmed when they film the prom scene video near the end.

There are some excellent performances in this movie. Walsh-Peelo does a lot in the lead role of Conor, Jack Reynor is perfect as his wiser, older brother Brendan, and McKenna as Eamon is as equally low key as he is unforgettable.

The ending of this movie works as a metaphor much better than it does as a reality. There are probably at least a dozen easier ways to do what they decide to do at the end, but none would have the same symbolic flare. A blunt, realistic ending would have had a more lasting impact. The orchestral swell of the final grand gesture feels a bit misplaced, but that’s my only real quibble with the whole movie.

If you’ve ever been in a band, this movie is for you. If you were a kid during the 80s, this movie is for you. In fact, if you’ve ever been 15, this movie is for you.

Title Sing Street
Director John Carney
Writer John Carney
Runtime 106 min
Starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy
Production Cosmo Films, Distressed Films, FilmNation Entertainment, FilmWave, Likely Story, PalmStar Media