Good Vibrations Movie Review
The story of Belfast's "godfather of punk" is told with plenty of groovy style to match the 1970s setting, mixing the music with colourful locations and lively characters. But while the story is fascinating, the film itself is too cluttered and fragmented to resonate with anyone who isn't already familiar with the events.
As politics and religion rage against each other in late-1960s Northern Ireland, local DJ Terry Hooley (Dormer) rejects both sides to concentrate on the music he loves. His wife Ruth (Whittaker) loves it as well, but starts to worry when Terry catches the fire of the punk movement, which stands up boldly to society. Soon Terry is helping promote local bands through his Good Vibrations record shop, discovering the likes of Rudi, the Outcasts and, most notably, the Undertones and their mega-hit Teenage Kicks. Terry knows what he has with them, but is doing this out of passion for the music. Which means he never keeps enough cash for himself to pay his bills.
Filmmakers D'Sa and Leyburn follow Hooley closely through his rollercoaster life, from moments of high excess to more harrowing scenes as his business and marriage fall apart around him. The narrative bounces quickly through the decades, keeping the tone light while remembering the seriousness of the violent clashes in the streets and the darker emotional issues that keep coming to the surface. But Hooley is a happy-go-lucky guy, only barely aware that he is squandering his resources. And Dormer delivers a remarkably vivid performance as a funny and hugely likeable guy who prefers to help others instead of himself.
On the other hand, none of the other characters are able to emerge from the fray. Whittaker gets close, but even she remains enigmatic. And all of the musicians, record company executives, broadcasters and fans blur into an amorphous mass as the film progresses. At least it's a lively gang of people, and the film is punctuated with amazing musical performances that explode with the urgency of the times. In the end, the film's chaotic structure manages to capture the messiness of Hooley's life. And the fact that success can't be measured in money.