From the minute some enterprising soul first plugged a guitar into an amp, bored kids everywhere have been making three-chord symphonies out of their crummy lives. That’s the spirit John Carney (Once, Begin Again) captures in Sing Street, set in 1985 Dublin. Fourteen-year-old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) has been moved from his posh school to a terrible new one, and his parents, broke and unhappy, are splitting up. With the spiritual guidance of his stoner older brother Brendan (sleepy-sexy Jack Reynor), he forms a band. What else is there to do?
Before long, Conor and his mates have come up with a handful of pure pop confections, with some cheerfully rough-around-the-edges music videos to match. He also earns the affection of a winsome aspiring model (Lucy Boynton). You’ve seen every element of Sing Street hundreds of times before—it’s Carney’s knack for assembling them that makes the difference. In his hands, this isn’t just a nostalgia trip. It’s an homage to teenage kicks and the urgency of getting them any way you can.
This appears in the April 25, 2016 issue of TIME.