Directed by: Lisa Barros D'Sa
Produced by: Chris Martin
Screenplay by: Colin Carberry
Starring: Richard Dormer
Original Music by: David Holmes
Cinematography by: Ivan McCullough
Editing by: Nick Emerson
Studio(s): Canderblinks Film and Music
Northern Ireland Screen
Irish Film Board
Distributed by: The Works
Release date(s): May 31, 2012 (Belfast Film Festival Premiere)
March 29, 2013 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 103 minutes
Country: Northern Ireland
Production budget: N/A
Box office revenue (as of publication): N/A
I'm ba-aaaaaaaaaaaaa-ck! After my annual leave of absence (which was absolutely necessary this year, as opposed to born out of laziness. Finished University, warranted Scout Leader, First Response/First Aid trained, NCFE qualified and pending-SIA licence, ran a leg of the Belfast Marathon a lot has happened), despite there being a bit of rust, there's nothing a good few movies can't do to grease these gears and get them grinding again. Many of the big film festivals (including Cannes and Berlin of 'The Big Three,' and the US's Sundance, among others) have been and gone, and we open up this year of reviewing right in the middle of Summer Blockbuster Season, so, for all the latest in movie news, reviews and my own personal spews, keep your eyes posted!
So, today (and perhaps tomorrow: who knows? More to the point, who cares?!) we'll having a look at Good Vibrations. During my leave of absence, I saw only two films, this and The Evil Dead (more of which soon), and this was one of my many intrepid endeavours to The Strand cinema. Good Vibrations isn't a bad place to start, as it's a movie rather close to home. Growing up in post-Troubles East Belfast and being a fan of punk (more post-punk in truth) from the period in which this film is set, I thought it would be a good challenge as to whether or not I'd look upon the film with rose-tinted glasses. Set in Belfast during the 1970s, a turbulent period for the city and the country as a whole, we follow Terri Hooley (Richard Dormer), a rabid music lover who decides to open up a record store, the eponymous Good Vibrations, on Great Victoria Street of all places, and he unwittingly becomes a figurehead for the emergence of punk and an alternative Ulster.
To start with the good about Good Vibrations (terrible phrase there, I know), I must compliment the lead acting performance by Richard Dormer. The actor's history in the theatre lends itself to the 'character' of Terri Hooley, elevating him outside of the realm of the average biopic. It's a wise move, working to the film's benefit and serves as a kind of self-mythologising of the story. Dormer has this manic charisma that is very charming and engaging, his Hooley being an almost evangelical preacher in his endeavours to promote the local flavour with his record store. You nearly from the get-go accept him as his part, and when you watch him ramble on with glee about these young bands, Dormer plays it down the line so you're not sure if he's a genius or genuinely insane. From the supporting standpoint, Jodie Whittaker is very good as Hooley's wife Ruth. Whittaker carries much of the same spirit of Dormer, but plays things a bit more subtle, befitting her pragmatist character. To me, she is the real heart of the film, at least philosophically, and Whittaker does a fine job of depicting the conflict between dreams and reality. Of course, with it being a movie about music, you'd expect to sound good, and that it certainly does. You've got work from local bands of the moment, such as Rudi, The Outcasts, Stiff Little Fingers and, of course, the monumental Teenage Kicks by The Undertones. One of the things that the movie does rather well is capture the power of music, in a strong sequence depicting in real-time the original John Peel Radio 1 broadcast of the track. You also have appearances from The Shragri-Las (one of Hooley's favourite bands), David Bowie and the mighty band from the other side of the Atlantic during New York's No Wave scene, Suicide, whose Dream Baby Dream is the basis for a strong montage. Most films would benefit having Suicide on their soundtracks, so, yes, it's music and it's subjective, but I was very happy at that particular inclusion. Also, for a low-budget period film, it certainly captures a period feel. I can tell that Belfast City Centre looks a lot different from how it looked ten years ago, never mind thirty, but the filmmakers haven't let that hinder them. It's also a well-shot picture, Ivan McCullough capturing the drabness of the environment, giving it at it's best moments an almost noir feel in terms of atmosphere. Good Vibrations is a mostly solid picture that's at times heartwarming, but also humorous and entertaining.
Now, while I feel Good Vibrations is a largely solid film, there are a couple of issues I'd like to flag up, a number of which emerge from the script. Written by Colin Carberry and prominent Belfast author Glenn Patterson, the script is pretty consistent for the most part, but dovetails as we reach the third act. Strangely, Carberry and Patterson decide to pack all of the conflict and trials into the third act, giving Hooley a borderline cult of personality that doesn't work. Constant partying and extravagance don't make up for the fact that the character is being a bit of a bastard to his wife and child, an arc which given little to no room to breath, and completely glosses over any semblance of three-dimensionality. As a result of this packing of material into a relatively short space of time, the climax does not work. It made me think of the climax of Purple Rain, but what made the climatic scenes of that film work was that Prince's character The Kid has an emotional development from start-to-finish. Here, it just comes across as rushed and sloppy pasted on after the film's true emotional climax of Teenage Kicks.
Well, it seemed like I was able to objectively look at this without the rose-tinted glasses alright. The third act of Good Vibrations is deeply flawed and threatens to see the movie commit an act of self-cannibalisation. However, I found that ultimately it has more good than bad going for it. Richard Dormer delivers a terrific lead performance, with Jodie Whittaker buttressing the film's emotional conflict(s). The film's soundtrack is excellent, not just a capsulation of the times but also placed appropriately, serving as much than simple historical standpoints. Despite the low-budget, the filmmakers have managed to establish the 1970s Belfast period look, and cinematographer Ivan McCullough captures the atmosphere, giving it almost noir feel. Good Vibrations has it's flaws, and is by no means Northern Ireland's This Is England or NEDS, but it's a mostly solid film that's worth watching and pretty entertaining.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.0/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Feeling the buzz (going for a double-bill at The Strand later!)
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