As I’ve previously posted, I was extremely excited for this movie’s release. Full disclosure: When I heard about it as a DJ on VIC Radio, I felt like it was the first movie made for me and me alone, and it was all I talked about to my friends. Well, time as come, and now for my actual movie review. Is it everything I expected and more? Was it a disappointment? Was it a total wash-out, and erasure of my passion for rock and roll? Read on.
In an age of pop art and postmodern art where artists purposely create nothing, movies are increasingly delicate in the intention of reflecting the ideas of the film in how the movie is made stylistically. “Pirate Radio,” being the collective stories of eight misfit sea-worthy DJs in a time when rock and roll was banned by the British government, is a mess, much like how the DJs who helmed the microphone. They existed and thrived by style alone, and this movie follows suit.
“Pirate Radio” is less so a narrative, but a series of sketches (with heavy influence from Monty Python’s particular brand of authentic British dry, smart-stupidity) that have concurring characters. But, we’re primarily exposed to the pirate DJs through Carl, a Prep-school failure sent to sea by his mother to live with his Godfather (the versatile and always cool Bill Nighy). Nighy plays Quentin, the proprietor and captain of Radio Rock, London’s premier broadcaster of Rock and Roll. Aboard the ship are such characters as American ex-Pat DJ, the Count (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, toning down his Lester Bangs impression from “Almost Famous), bespectacled heavyweight Doctor Dave (Nick Frost), sex-god Gavin (Rhys Ifans) among others. They broadcast rock music, made by British acts, but banned by the uptight culture board, led by the cold, efficient Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh). As Dormandy plots to shut down the boat, Pirate Radio rises in popularity, becoming more popular than the government themselves. This is about as much of a conflict as we get, despite the real heart of the controversy of pirate radio at the time. The rest of the time, director Richard Curtis regale in a love story that’s oft forgotten between Carl and Charlotte (Emma Thompson) and the based-in-fact mischief of the Radio Rock DJs.
Because these stories (a DJ being married for only 17 hours, for example — another being a bit of a spoiler) are based in fact, yet band together under such a mess, the film can be a little frustrating to deal with. Storylines and characters drop off and pick up in some of the worst places, and even the main cast sometimes weigh down the more interesting stories. Likewise, because it takes a light approach to the controversy of pirate radio, the conflict between Radio Rock and the British government never feel as emotional as some of the listeners make it out to be. I’ll even come out and admit that it doesn’t have the sort of raunch that it wishes it had — for all the scenes of drugs, sex, and rock and roll, the first two are comically plain. Yet, this works to the movie’s advantage.
These characters are all so spirited that they are convincingly about the music. There’s no particularly great performer out of this dream cast of Brit comedy stars (and one Yank who won an Academy Award), but their dialogues, even when being loaded with the rock cliches, feel realistic and imbued with the passion of the time. Even as a period piece, “Pirate Radio” never feels like it’s dated, like any good album. It’s a good ensemble comedy with a sharp sense of humor and. Even when I consider what doesn’t work for the film, I can only remember the fun I had watching the movie. Not to mention a killer soundtrack that works in all the right places.
“Pirate Radio,” despite its flaws (and it is flawed), offers an incredible experience that will stay with you all through the weekend. Finally, a movie that nails the spirit of rock and roll and the excitement and zeal in the bygone era of radio.
AND YET. . .
How does it reflect our society that despite an equally aggressive ad campaign on radio, television, AND websites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB, “Pirate Radio” failed to crack the top 10 at the box office at $2.9 million. Comparatively, the lowest grossing film for this week was “The Box” at $3.9 million, while “2012” took in $65 million. This is why we can’t have nice things in America, because we’re either taking music for granted or too busy feeling bad about the future that we can’t feel good about the past.
We clearly need radio now more than ever. I’m buying a boat.