As chaotic and energetic as a 1960s British comedy, this film traces six years in the life of the world's first truly independent record producer. It doesn't say anything new, but the story is remarkable.
In 1961, Joe Meek (O'Neill) runs his music empire from a flat above a shop in Holloway Road, North London, where his landlady (Ferris) tries to ignore the ruckus upstairs. Joe surrounds himself with beautiful young men that he crafts into pop sensations, reaching the peak of success with the UK and US chart-topper Telstar. But Joe is also a victim of bad organisation, paranoia and depression, which leads him to alienate the talented people around him, including both musicians and his financier (Spacey).
With his directing debut, Moran shows a strong, witty filmmaking style that immediately draws us in, mainly because the movie has such a distinctly original look and feel. The screen bristles with madcap activity, much of which is outrageously camp. Scenes are overcrowded both with dialog and people. At one point, the young composer Geoff Godard (Burke) echoes our thoughts when he says, "I don't know what's going on or who anyone is!" In other words, stop trying to understand everything and just go with the flow.
And what a flow it is. Meek's story is a rollercoaster of comedy and emotion, with wild mood swings and some frightening moments of intense darkness. O'Neill plays this so well that we identify with the eager little boy inside as well as the guy who has both sold his soul and taken everyone else's. And the excellent supporting cast combines physicality with personality to allow each person to stand out from the crowd. Spacey has a hilarious Terry Thomas thing going on, while cameos from the likes of Carl Barat and Justin Hawkins, plus many of the real-life characters, add superb texture.
As it progresses, a strongly theatrical sensibility betrays the script's origins as a stage play. The performances are heightened, and the foreshadowing cutaways are a bit heavy-handed. But this only adds to the overall sense that the world is slightly shifting on its axis as the manufactured pop star is born before our eyes.