4 out of 5 stars
Frankly, I overuse “charming” so much that I have thesaurus.com bookmarked on the word but there really is no better word to describe this film with. The boy meets girl story set in Dublin in 1985 couldn’t be simpler but the writing is funny, engaging and universal. Cleverly incorporating catchy original songs that lovingly riff off the music of the decade instead of covers, this makes the film totally irresistible not only to people growing up in the 80s but in fact, anyone who has ears. It manages that fine balance between nostalgia and sentimentality, maybe except for the fairytale ending, but by then, only the heartless would not be swept away by the film’s innocent charm (and there’s that word again). For every inaccurate historical reference to a song (Rio on TOTP in 1985 indeed!), there are numerous spot-on recreation of 80s music video in all its magnificent meaninglessness and superficiality. Kudos to the casting director for the fresh young cast which is a delightful and enchanting lot led by a charismatic Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and pleasingly supported by Mark McKenna (another newbie who’s got the songwriter vibe down to a tee) and veteran Jack Reynor (looking like Seth Rogen’s younger, slimmer brother). If John Carney was hampered by the rom-com formula in Once and Begin Again, he found himself on stronger grounds with a more personally invested story here and proved he is THE writer-director for crowd-pleasing films with great romantic songs and a big heart.