Published on December 22nd, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant0
The 1970s in Belfast, Ireland were harsh and violent times, when a political pot boiled over in a conflict between the nationalists and the unionists over the fate of Northern Ireland’s constitutional status. Over 3500 people, mostly civilians, lost their lives. In the midst of this world, was a man named Terri Hooley, a music fan who had watched his community crumble. The music was all but forgotten as Hooley’s friends all put away childish things to take up arms in the conflict. When Hooley got the opportunity to open a record store (in one of the most bombed out areas of town), he jumped at the chance, opening up Good Vibrations. In wondering where all the music had gone, he stumbled upon the underground punk scene in Belfast, which started him on a journey to being the unofficial leader of a crew of teenage punk rockers. Hooley started a record label to go along with the store, and icons like John Peel championed it, as he knocked out a few hits, like the excellent Undertones single, ‘Teenage Kicks,’ putting Belfast on the musical map.
Good Vibrations, the film, tells this story with a lot of visual aplomb, accenting the movie well with effects and motifs that augment the story rather than messing up its hair. There’s one scene where we see a sad, empty pub that slowly fills with people drinking and having fun, as Hooley takes us back in time to recall how busy his favourite hangout used to be before ‘The Troubles.’
There is some stand out acting in this movie, most notably from Richard Dormer (Game of Thrones), playing the elder statesman Hooley. It’s an exceptional performance, and Dormer captures both the troublemaker and the dreamer that the film imagines Hooley to be. The young kids that played the music were born to a sorry state of affairs, and had already given up on their own lives in Ireland. Hooley, whether he wanted the responsibility or not, gave them a star to orbit with purpose. Hooley understood that people needed to ‘fuel their rock n’ roll souls’ and the music often broke down barriers between the Catholic Nationalists and the Protestant Unionists. Dormer coaxes this character out from within by showcasing Hooley’s loveable rogue charisma, humour, and even his lapses into occasional irresponsibility. Jodie Whitaker (playing Hooley’s wife) continues to surprise me as well, after seeing her in Broadchurch, Black Mirror, and Attack the Block. She’s going to be a big star if she keeps plugging away.
Mark Kermode called Good Vibrations the best movie of the year (so far), and while I’m not sure I can go that far, it was definitely worth checking out. And while music fans will get a lot out of it, it’s a pretty universal story. You don’t need to know much about the bands or about the strife in Ireland to enjoy the film. While some of the execution was standard formulaic music bio fare and the message near the end becomes a little on the nose, there aren’t too many movies these days that can tell a story with such a wildly thumping heart.