Teenage Kicks running throoouuugh the night! ‘Good Vibrations’ (2013).

9 Apr

Good Vibrations poster“Are teenage dreams so hard to beat?” bellows Feargal Sharkey, frontman of The Undertones, at the beginning of their breakout single ‘Teenage Kicks’, and this is the question that Good Vibrations ultimately concerns itself with. Set in Belfast during the seventies, the movie chronicles the rise, fall, rise, fall, rise and so forth of Terri Hooley (Richard Dormer), a peace-loving pacifist who opens a record store on the city’s Great Victoria Street; a stretch of tarmac and bricks which is, he reminds us, “the most bombed half-mile in Europe”. Using his shop as a makeshift music label, he signs some local up-and-coming punk rock bands, one of which happens to be The Undertones, as a way of not only fulfilling their collecting teenage rock and roll dreams, but also protecting them from the horrors of war.

However, to say that Good Vibrations is a film about The Undertones would be completely missing the point; this is half docu-drama about a Belfast man, half fan appreciation of a bygone era where great clothes, even greater facial and wonderful music was the norm. The trailer for this movie markets it as if it were a documentary about the Derry band. But the oddly-named Terri is the real star here, and The Undertones actually play second fiddle (they were too rock and roll for a fiddle-player, just sayin’) to other fledging groups such as The Outcasts, who he takes on tour in a Volkswagen hippie van.

Violence infused by various political and theological differences (known historically as ‘The Troubles’) underscores the feel-good nature of the film, and this juxtaposition of the fun with the fatal adds a layer of uncertain tension, which really makes Good Vibrations stand out. Unlike The Commitments, which is a similar sort of film, this is non-fiction, and the realism is handled very deftly. Directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn truly nailed the aesthetic ethos of the time; not only through the fantastic clothing choices, but also by shooting the film through a grainy filter which, while still in a stressed colour, is pleasingly faded.

The fairly regular use of news stock footage made it, at times, feel like a dramatised, feature-length episode of Reelin’ In The Years, which isn’t really a complaint as I bloody love that program. However, it can be difficult for these sorts of films (The Commitments, Cherrybomb and the like) to transcend the whole ‘lifetime movie’ sensation, and while this film is certainly leagues ahead of the latter example in terms of focus, sometimes during the screening I did get the feeling that I was at home on my couch watching one of those made-for-TV musical biopics.

While it is doubtless a fun experience, the movie lacks that emotional punch needed to make this an entirely memorable motion picture. The story wavers and drags in places, and it’s at least twenty minutes too long – the ending in particular outstays its welcome. Dormer is outstanding as Terri, but Jodie Whittaker, who plays Ruth, Terri’s free-spirited wife, starts off as a lovingly eccentric character, yet loses virtually all of her charisma once she and Terri settle down. Dylan Moran, one of my favourite comedians, is given a frustratingly ‘nothing’ role here, and he appears all of five times, which really disappointed me.

What moved me more than anything is the idea that music transcends social strife and actually solidifies friendships far more than religion or politics ever could, which is a point this film drives home excellently. A lovingly-crafted, well-acted modern period drama, Good Vibrations succeeds where many others fail. I love a film that clearly adores and respects its subject matter; however, it’s unlikely you’ll be moved by this movie the way it wants you to be.

Simon says: a fun testament to the uniting power of rock and roll.

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