Pirate Radio (The Boat That Rocked) Reviews
The quaint little story here is straight forward, back in the 60's rock and pop was frowned upon by the stale old crusty stiff upper lipped British government. A government that is still clearly set in the 50's and wasn't ready or willing to accept the free flowing hippie movement and its drastic changes. During this time pirate radio stations were set up to play tunage that was considered not cricket, but to avoid British law these musical rebels set up shop in the North Sea away from land-set restrictions and out of reach. Although inspired by real pirate radio stations of the time this fictional story sees a group of ragtag DJ's on a rusty old trawler blasting the UK with dangerous rock n roll. At the same time the dastardly Kenneth Branagh and his sidekick are trying their upmost to shut them down.
The plot is actually quite similar to 'Still Crazy' with the basic premise of a young man joining a group of older men to go on a wild immature adventure of sorts. In 'Still Crazy' a young man joins the band, here a young man joins the radio crew, both films focusing on all of the characters giving us multiple subplots. As you can imagine all of these little character driven stories revolve around the simple issues of sex, booze, relationships, having a good time and battling against the establishment. Each character has their own little quirk that is pretty predictable and highly cliched in a typically rude crass British kind of way, nothing wrong with that of course, you expect it right from the start but its seen in virtually every British comedy.
Apparently you simply cannot make a British comedy without Bill Nighy and here he plays the same type of rigid character yet again. Rhys Ifans plays another slimy creepy generally unlikable character, Nick Frost plays...errr...the fat bloke...again, and then pad out the rest with various familiar faces which most Brits will recognise in some form or another but everyone else won't. The only real breath of fresh air in this cast is Hoffman as the rebellious brash US DJ which gives the film a sense of 'Good Morning Vietnam' vs traditional British toilet humour...at times.
The establishment that is trying to ruin everyone's fun is played in its entirety by Kenneth Branagh, a strict headmaster-esque government minister who thinks rock n roll is corrupting young minds. His sidekick played by Jack Davenport is surprisingly not a half wit as you might expect but a clever devious subordinate who digs up legal loopholes. Together these two make a reasonably fun pair of bad guys (not really bad of course) and do offer most of the entertainment character wise. Sure it might have been cliched to make them a bumbling pair of Laurel and Hardy types but maybe that might have worked in the films favour? None the less Branagh plays the sniveling jobsworth suit to a tee with his grovelling to the Prime Minister. Alas they did let everything down by naming Davenport's character Twatt...a totally lame and unfunny gag that seems rather childish, they couldn't think of anything better than that?!
By now I'm sure most of you must know what to expect with a comedy like this, all the usual Brit gags visual or otherwise, like I said its the same spiel in all UK comedy flicks (with almost the same cast). Being based on pirate radio of course this means the sexual innuendo gags are through the roof! add to that lots of frat house-like tomfoolery, soppy lovin' and a brief spot of nudity. What can I say, its silly and infantile but its still a good, warm-hearted relaxing flick with a solid soundtrack and a surprisingly semi-emotional finale. Its just not as funny as you'd like it to be.
Richard Curtis, the most estrogen-laden man this side of Angel from Rent, has made a bro-tacular love letter to classic rock. Much like Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, Pirate Radio stacks classic rock song upon classic rock song in a party of a film. It's a fun ride, and Kenneth Brannagh plays a great villain of the uptight, stick-up-one's-arse variety. The performances are all jovial, and it's clear the actors had a blast making the film.
However, I didn't like the ending, saccharine and unbelievable, and the depiction of women. All of the women were masculinized lesbians or fangirls who jump into bed at a wink or a well-placed "how 'bout it then?" The females, without exception, serve as objects of male desire without character arcs of their own. What is more, even after meeting Emma Thompson's character, it's hard to imagine her sending her son to this boat for any type of reformation.
Overall, though, I enjoyed the film immensely, caught up as I was in its celebration of music.
It's all at once, a romantic bildungsroman, a triumphant battle of wills, a comedic slice-of-bro-life, and a love letter to rock and roll, as evidenced by the rip-roaring soundtrack and the stationary instead of scrolling text during the song credits :~P All the characters are zany, sexy, eccentric, and just so bloody likable!
There are a few implausibilities though (some pointed out on IMDb) like some anachronistic songs and The Count's miraculous resurfacing from the wreckage. The suction would have dragged him down!
The story is a real one (although stretched to the absurd) - while Brit Rock and Roll was revolutionizing pop music, the stuffed shirts at the BBC (puppets for the conservative government) played NO rock music on the state radio (which eats up like 99% of the bandwidth). So, in order to get around the regulations, Pirate Radio stations set up in the North Sea,just outside the five mile territorial zone and broadcast the Kinks and Stones for everyone to hear.
On board the broadcast ship you have 8 deejays (each doing a three hour stint), a news and weather guy, an engineer,a cook and the owner/manager. They all hang out, get high, and dig on life and the music - that's pretty much the film in a nutshell.
Unfortunately the film glosses over the perfect storm aspect - with so much social unrest and rebellion against authority and the staid status quo, rock music, through its anthems to freedoms of all kinds (oh my god - let's spend the night together: blasphemy!!!) - galvanized what so very many people were feeling worldwide. Sadly, the film turns glib instead of pointed, and the polarization of we vs them (the man) is reduced to a cartoonish portrayal whose soul purpose is to garner laughs.
Those laughs are abundant however. From the ultra straight laced minestry buffoon, played with great gravitas by Kenneth Brannaugh, to the aristocratic yet free love advocating ship owner, wonderfully portrayed by Bill Nighy, as if he's channeling Peter O'Toole - the film boasts wonderful acting chops. However, since the story sticks to the superflous, it fails to be anything more than a hazy rememberence of a time, seen through rose colored glasses.
As Phillip Seymore Hoffman (typically wonderful) pronounces "I had a terrible thought that I just can't get out of my head... we are living in the best days of our lives". Indeed - the nostalgia quota is high here. I can remember being sent to bed where I had my transistor radio - spending an hour or so late each night listening to freedom on the radio.
I couldn't find anything likeable about it, despite liking a lot of the UK filled cast and even with the addition of Philip Seymour Hoffman, I had expected this to at least be a silly funny film, but it really didn't even begin to get the chuckle muscles moving
I did kind of wish there would have been some more dramatic tension throughout, as what real tension that does exist doesn't come until the end, and in a jarring emotionally uneven way. It basically goes from fun to dead serious in too short a time span. Another gripe I have, (and this should be a deal breaker), is that the music that's featured rocks, but more than just a small amount of it is used anachronistically. Films set in 1966 shouldn't be playing stuff that come out after that, I don't care how awesome any of it is. Still though, my bias is such a strange one that I'm gonna give this film a pass anyway since the music does rock, and there are some really good sequences throughout, particularly the game of chicken set to Ennio Morricone.
I really liked the cast, (especially Ifans, Hoffman, Frost, and Nighy) and the fact that, even though the dramatic tension is mostly lacking and uneven, that the film was pretty easy on the plot. However, it would have been nice had the introduction showed how pirate rado got started instead of just telling so they could get right into the story. I'm glad this movie was made, as it tells a story that cinematically deserves to be told, but damn it should have been better.