Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn
Stars: Richard Dormer, Jodie Whittaker, Liam Cunningham, Dylan Moran, Kerr Logan, Andrew Simpson, Adrian Dunbar, Niall Wright.
Good Vibrations does for the Belfast punk scene of the 70s what Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People did for the Manchester music scene of the 80s.
Good Vibrations is a biopic that tells the true story of Terri Hooley (played by Richard Dormer, best known for playing Beric Dondarrion in the popular HBO series Game Of Thrones, etc) a former pub DJ and the one-eyed optimistic owner of a record shop in Belfast in the midst of the sectarian violence that characterised the troubles of the 70s. This is the first screenplay from the writing pair of Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson, and they create a strong sense of time and place. However, the tone is occasionally a little uneven as it juxtaposes Hooley’s exuberant nature, energy and humour against the violence of Belfast at the time.
Hooley opened his store in the “most bombed out street in Europe”, and he would occasionally have to pay off gunmen and thugs to keep his shop open. Due to his unflagging passion for music, his humble little store evolved into an independent record label that supported some rising young punk bands like The Undertones, best known for their breakthrough hit, the anthemic Teenage Kicks.
Through these bands and their music Hooley somehow managed to bring together the youth of Ireland, no matter which side of the political or religious divide they were from and allowed them to channel their aggression. Hooley became the unofficial “godfather of Irish punk,” and he believed that music could make a difference in the lives of those around him.
But Hooley’s personal life is a mess. He is almost childlike in his enthusiasm for the music, but he was not particularly interested in money and everyday things like paying bills eluded him. He was often on the verge of bankruptcy and losing everything, and this put strain on his marriage to Ruth (Jodie Whittaker), who grows tired of his erratic ways. And he also struggled to deal with the politics of the music industry.
Directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn (the edgy coming of age drama Cherrybomb, etc) don’t shy away from the darker realities of life in Belfast during this period, but the material is leavened with generous doses of quirky humour and lots of energy. They use lots of visual flourishes to help recreate the chaotic atmosphere that was Belfast during the 70s, and they bring to life the turbulent streets and seedy nightclubs and bars. They have also incorporated plenty of archival footage from the era to add a sense of authenticity to the material and place events in their context.
Dormer plays the somewhat naive and self-destructive Hooley with gusto, energy, infectious charm and sly wit, and his vibrant performance brings the character to life. He captures Hooley’s rough around the edges charisma and somehow succeeds in making this irresponsible rogue endearing despite his flaws. Hooley also manages to convey his genuine passion for the music, and his face lights up whenever he is transported by a great song or a new band.
Whittaker (from Attack The Block, etc) is also good as Hooley’s long suffering but forgiving wife Ruth. Kerr Logan also registers strongly as a young Feargal Sharkey, the lead singer of The Undertones who briefly tasted fame as a solo artist in the early 80s.
And the action is accompanied by a great soundtrack of reggae, pop and punk songs from the era that adds energy to the material and will resonate strongly with audiences. Whether or not you like punk music, Good Vibrations is a very entertaining biopic and proves a winner!