Wednesday, 3 April 2013

FILM REVIEW: Good Vibrations

Si's Sights And Sounds is blown away by the chronicle of Belfast punk Godfather Terri Hooley

Husband-and-wife duo Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D'Sa's Good Vibrations is like "Teenage Kicks" brought to life, as lively, energising and relatable as the aforementioned song. It's a superb piece of work, one that may well become most famous not for being the greatest of its kind, but for capturing the same timelessly unifying effect as The Undertones' iconic 1977 tune and an equally iconic film, released that same year, about a galaxy far, far away. Good Vibrations isn't the first, nor will it be the last, movie that illustrates the highs and lows of musical muscle in a time of crisis (or crises?), but its timeliness, setting and powerhouse performances raise it to another level entirely. It's less a biopic than a well-paced, consistently riveting and sometimes bitingly funny tale about chasing one’s aspirations in extremely turbulent times, a more endearing Killing Bono minus the sloppiness.

Terri Hooley, played in the film by Richard Dormer, is something of a legendary – or should that be LegenDerry, considering his influence on The Undertones? – figure in the Northern Irish punk scene. Famed for "discovering" not only Feargal Sharkey and company, but much lesser known bands such as Rudi and The Outcasts, Dormer plays Hooley as a man struggling to hold his personal life together in the midst of The Troubles, unemployment, rows with his failed politician of a father and starting a family with his girlfriend/wife Ruth, played sweetly by Jodie Whittaker. It would appear that the only thing for Hooley is to live, or at least try to live, the dream on what little money he has – and so is born "Good Vibrations", the "independent" record store and record label that is as inconceivable today as it was during the late 1970's. Watching Good Vibrations now, after the digital revolution has sent the whole industry spinning full circle and made it even harder to make a living through music, one can't help but feel nostalgic and regretful. The line is so fine between profession and hobby for musicians these days that it's upsetting.

Good Vibrations presents Hooley to the audience as a ne'er do well, ne'er give up sort who lived in the moment, for the moment, and rarely appeared to consider the long-term consequences. It is testimony to Dormer's magnificent, multi-faceted portrayal that we ultimately view Hooley as human, a guy not necessarily worth rooting for, but always worth following. He has little or no time for the self-loathing of John Cusack's Rob Gordon or the excessive angst of Ewan McGregor's Mark Renton. He's an exceptionally driven man child, a less conservative Dewey Finn who never discloses what truly drives him on – is it the music, the money, his father, his "friends", or Ruth? – and that makes the character endlessly fascinating. The joyous look on his face when he first hears "Teenage Kicks" and his reaction to the birth of his daughter will long be remembered.

To Terri Hooley, "Good Vibrations" isn't just a store, or a label, but a way of life; and if said way of life may have its pitfalls, to him, and no doubt many others, the experience of the highs is too great to resist. The price we have to pay for the lifestyle may catch up with us, but teenage dreams are hard to beat. Yet therein lies the ultimate, bittersweet horror of Good Vibrations, a stark reminder that as appealing as the entertainment industry may seem, you need a thick skin and tremendous persistence to survive. It's about getting the lucky breaks and making the right moves at the right time, and even capitalising on the zeitgeist may give you little more than short-term success and a temporary energy rush. If music may be the food of love, it's not necessarily food for life.


Brendan McDaid said...

Nice review Simon!