Good Vibrations holds back in the mosh pit
Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn. Starring Richard Dormer. Unrated.
Forget the title: this ain’t the ’60s, baby, and don’t bother wearing any flowers in your hair. They won’t do much good against an armoured personnel carrier. But three chords and a dozen cans of lager probably did help you forget about the Troubles in the streets of 1970s Belfast.
Good Vibrations is a generally engaging, occasionally flat-footed reminder that the punk explosion wasn’t confined to England and North America. According to this fictionalized version of memoirs by Terri Hooley, owner of a record label and a store named after a certain Beach Boys number, disco-era Northern Ireland was a mini-hotbed of snarlingly good—if not memorably great—musicians that screenwriters Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson insist are bands that mattered.
The re-creation of time and place is uncanny in the hands of codirectors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, who followed Harry Potter sidekick Rupert Grint to modern Belfast in their only previous feature, 2009’s Cherrybomb. They do the difficult stuff very well, but they muff the easy parts surprisingly often. Because this is based on a real person’s memoirs, the filmmakers are obligated to hit some of his biographical bullet points, and their reluctance to engage is obvious.
The domestic aspects of the story are feeble, with almost no storytelling effort put into how Hooley met, wed, and lost his wife, played by unnecessarily beautiful Jodie Whittaker, the young Englishwoman who had her big break opposite Peter O’Toole in Venus. In the end, though, the movie succeeds or fails based on your tolerance for Robin Williams–type smirking at the camera, courtesy of Game of Thrones veteran Richard Dormer as Hooley, self-appointed guru to the punks and all-around musical messiah.
Considering that emphasis—and excepting one milestone tune by the Undertones—the filmmakers don’t have enough trust in the actual sounds Hooley promoted. The club scenes are exciting, but they don’t let us hear more than a few snippets of song at a time. You will probably leave the theatre intrigued and entertained, but you won’t walk out humming.