Good Vibrations Film Review
On the surface, Good Vibrations seems like just another standard rock biopic, with the battered vans and run-down venues to prove it. However, what the film offers instead is a lovingly crafted portrayal of not just the ‘godfather of Belfast punk’, but of a city in turmoil that in turn, led to the rise of one of the greatest points in music history.
The film, stated at the beginning to be “based on the true stories of Terri Hooley”, tells the story of the man responsible for bringing Irish punk music to the fore in the late 1970s. Beginning with his perhaps lonely life as a child, Hooley is obvious as an outsider. This becomes even clearer as the years pass and Belfast becomes a war zone, caught in the midst of the violent conflict known as the 1970s Troubles. As everyone become defined as either Protestant or Catholic, Terri (by his own admission) never thought of himself as either, instead content to lose himself in music.
Straight from the off, Terri is clearly a man of a different sort to those around him. Richard Dormer’s sweet, lisping voice accompanies the film with a wry optimism that clashes with the turmoil of his character’s surroundings, making it all the more clear that Terri is set apart from those around him.
After marrying the like-minded Ruth, Terri opens a record shop (the titular Good Vibrations) on the most war-torn street of Belfast, and after attending a high energy punk gig, becomes taken in by the frenetic youth culture and the levels of music appreciation that match his own. Terri quickly decides to open a record label to put out the punk music that no one else will. This leads to the high point of his career, and that of the film, when the timeless track Teenage Kicks by The Undertones gets played on John Peel’s flagship BBC radio show. Famously, Peel played the song twice in a row and later stated it was his favorite song. The importance of this moment is captured well in the film, providing one of the many uplifting moments of the film.
And that is the real point of Good Vibrations, not to necessarily inform but to instill in the audience the power that this type of music can have even in the harshest of environments. Whilst the older people of Belfast are engaged in violence, the city’s youth are more interested in letting out their frustrations and opinions through music, allowing the film to realistically portray punk music for what it is. Terri’s enthusiasm and eternal optimism is captured brilliantly by Dormer, whose mad-eyed stare and driving spirit make for a truly likeable and engaging central character.
The film’s other strength comes from its basis in realism, using archive footage of the violence and upheaval in 1970s Belfast to provide a real sense of time and place. The hostility of the film’s backdrop is never out of sight, allowing Good Vibrations to provide an effective portrait of the harsh times in which the film is based, giving Terri’s quest to spread great music to the masses all the more powerful.
Good Vibrations is not without its faults of course, with the climax perhaps tipping the film’s quota of musical clichés just over the edge. Sadly, it also seems that the supporting cast are somewhat wasted, with Liam Cunningham’s record technician and Dylan Moran’s drunk bar owner both not seen enough. Jodie Whittaker’s performance as Terri’s long-suffering wife Ruth is engaging, and provides a good symbol for all that Terri had to lose in his quest for musical greatness.
However, thanks to Richard Dormer’s sweetly judged performance and the great use of historical footage by directing team Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, Good Vibrations is a wildly likable and warm film. Instead of confining the story to just Hooley, it tells the story of a city torn apart by conflict, and the power that this one man had to bring people together with music.