Sing Me a Song

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Sing Me a Song Movie Poster Image
Thoughtful, beautifully shot docu about influence of tech.
  • NR
  • 2021
  • 100 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Encourages honesty (to others and to yourself), self-reflection, perseverance. Also demonstrates how transformative (in both a positive and negative way) modern technology and social media are, and how no one is immune to technology's influence. 

Positive Role Models

It seems Peyangki has to rebel against his upbringing in order to truly find his path, even if it isn't what he (or viewers) expect. Ugyen seems self-centered and concerned more with her own needs than with Peyangki's crisis.

Violence

Pretend violence as the young monks use their toy guns to "shoot" at one another (Peyangki is later reprimanded for buying the toys and encouraging the behavior). Peyangki's mother says if he stays a monk, he'll one day be able to perform the rites at her cremation ritual.

Sex

Brief discussions of beauty/attractiveness and how Peyangki believes he's in love with Ugyen. She sings in front of men who later flirt with and try to touch her and her fellow hostesses outside the karaoke club. 

Language

Subtitled inclusion of "damn," but otherwise reprimands like "rude," "not nice," "you're not a boy anymore," etc.

Consumerism

Discussion of the WeChat app, which allows the monks to communicate with outsiders -- in Peyangki's case, Ugyen.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Peyangki and a friend pick mushrooms to make and sell medicinal mushroom tea, which acts like a drug of some sort. Some adults smoke cigarettes and drink at karaoke clubs.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sing Me a Song is director Thomas Balmès' follow-up to 2013's Happiness. It continues the story of Peyangki, a young Buddhist monk in Bhutan who's now 18 (and not nearly as committed to his religious studies as he was as a child). In the first documentary, Peyangki's rural village was on the cusp of receiving electricity, phone, and internet service; a decade later, in Sing Me a Song, everyone -- even the boys at the monastery -- are avid smartphone and screen-time users. Peyangki is even in a text-based relationship with Ugyen, a city girl who's keeping some big secrets. There's not much mature content here, although Ugyen works as a hostess at a karaoke bar, where a couple of men (who look intoxicated) flirt and try to touch/hug her. Peyangki also picks and sells mushrooms to a man who turns them into a medicinal tea. There's no violence, but the young monks do play with toy guns and are later reprimanded for it. Peyangki is also shown crying and upset.

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What's the story?

SING ME A SONG begins with segments from documentarian Thomas Balmès' previous feature, 2013's Happiness, which followed 8-year-old monk Peyangki as he prayed, studied, and awaited the arrival of electricity, cell towers, and Wi-Fi in his rural Bhutanese village. He's shown going to sleep as a boy -- and when he wakes up, the movie switches to footage of him 10 years later, now an 18-year-old. He's in the same room but a remarkably different world: Now all the people -- even young monks -- are constantly using their smartphones. The monks in training are reciting their prayers, but they're also scrolling, watching, and even playing on their phones. Peyangki, who was once considered a reincarnated lama, is far from dedicated to his religious studies; he wants to rush back to his room and text/talk to his girlfriend Ugyen over WeChat. He wants to save money to go visit her and possibly even leave monastic life for her -- whereas Ugyen, who's a hostess at a karaoke bar, is keeping big secrets: She's a single mother to a toddler girl, and she's planning to leave Bhutan.

Is it any good?

Balmès chronicles Peyangki's youth and relative innocence in order to thoughtfully explore universal themes about coming of age, the influence of technology, and first love. It's brilliant of the director to begin with footage from Happiness, not only to orient those who are unfamiliar with the first documentary but also to remind everyone of how quiet the village used to be (at the time, Peyangki spent his free time running around, singing, and making himself a flower crown). Fast-forward a decade, and the monastery and other buildings are still there, but everyone is glued to their phones. It would be simplistic to call the movie a cautionary tale, because Balmès doesn't judge Peyangki for his actions; he just shows how incongruous the current behavior is from his past and the path set before him. Some of the film's most revelatory scenes aren't between Peyangki and Ugyen (this isn't really a love story, although romance is certainly a major element) but between Peyangki and a younger monk in his group at the monastery. 

The moments between Peyangki and his younger monk friends are poignant and brutally honest. The older monks gently lecture Peyangki to no avail, but when a younger peer asks him to reconsider leaving the monastery, it's remarkably effective. The cinematography of the monastery's mountainside setting is gorgeous, highlighting the unique beauty of a place nearly lost in time. When the action switches to Bhutan's capital city, Thimphu, the shots are quicker, the sounds louder, and the setting crowded. Peyangki arrives in the big city to see whether he has a future with Ugyen, and he quickly realizes that life, love, and the future aren't what he imagined. This is a contemplative film with plenty of worthy themes to discuss, and it cements Balmès as one of the most interesting and globally minded documentarians working today.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the impact of technology and screen time on the people highlighted in Sing Me a Song. How does social media affect Peyangki? What about the other monks?

  • What do you consider the character strengths displayed by various people in the documentary?  

  • Discuss the romantic relationship in the film. What do you think about how it developed? Is it relatable how the romance develops via text and video chat?

  • What do you think happens next? Why do you think the director ended the movie the way he did?

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