Starring: Richard Dormer, Liam Cunningham, Jodie Whittaker
You may like this if you liked: Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, 2012), 24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, 2002), Human Traffic (Justin Kerrigan, 1999)
Good Vibrations chronicles the life of Terri Hooley (Dormer) who, solely motivated by his love of music, decided to open up a record shop called ‘Good Vibrations’ in Belfast city centre in the 1970s. He did this despite the constant danger produced by The Troubles producing a heavily divided and conflicted nation. On one visit to a music club, Terri hears punk music for the very first time and the raw power in the music has a profound effect on him that changes his life. Determined to spread the word, he sets up his own record label and local tours for these local bands, including The Undertones. He even travels to London to try and get bigger record companies to take on these bands and a chance meeting with Radio One DJ John Peel leads to ‘Teenage Kicks’ being played on Radio One and them hitting the big time. His continued passion for this music helped unite a troubled city at times, but this came at a cost.
I am personally not a fan of punk music, though I appreciate what it stood for, and being born in 1984 I am a little too young to have experienced the punk movement. However if a film of this nature is a success then whether you are a fan, or indeed whether you were there or not should not matter one bit. Thankfully in my view Good Vibrations is a success as it manages to be appealing and genuinely involving to all audiences. This is a film made with genuine passion for its subject that is very clear throughout the narrative; this always makes a huge difference. Even for a young laymen like me when it comes to the punk era I found Good Vibrations extremely accessible. Sometimes films of this type of subject can be preachy and a little alienating giving off the attitude ‘if you were not there then you will not understand’. Thankfully with Good Vibrations this is not the case as this is a film that depicts with genuine passion just how powerful music can be and what it can do for people, whether you are a fan of punk or not.
I personally found that Good Vibrations dealt with The Troubles in a respectful and appropriate way. There are occasional clips that use archive footage from the time and they are used to add poignant context but are never over used. None of us need a history lesson and Good Vibrations never preaches to us about the appalling violence that occurred, as the focus of the narrative is predominantly optimism and the music. Though being a ‘feel good biopic’ (not my words) there are some inevitable cheesy moments but one of the main centre pieces of the narrative is when we the audience hear ‘Teenage Kicks’ for the first time and I found this was done in an extremely and genuinely powerful way that truly portrayed what that song as well as the genre meant to people at that time, especially in Belfast.
The permanently optimistic tone of Good Vibrations sometimes maybe undermines the flaws in Terri Hooley’s personality and the fact his passion for the music destroys his marriage. Though he is depicted with honesty as his tendency to be very bad with money and neglect his wife and new born child are shown clearly, his almost naive approach to life and the music industry make him quite hard to like. However, if that is the truth then fair play to the film makers for making it that way. However, the main subject here is of the power of the music and that in my view is depicted perfectly. In fact the music itself could definitely be described as one of the film’s protagonists. Though it is of course Hooley’s unparalleled passion for the music that drives the narrative, the music itself is very much a character too. Both depend on each other. It is the main focus on music that allows Good Vibrations to be a constantly engaging and genuinely uplifting by the end. The scene showing the ‘legendary’ sold at gig at Belfast’s Ulster Hall that Terri Hooley organises where all the bands he discovered plays together will uplift even the more cynical film viewer (even me).
Good Vibrations is genuinely uplifting, funny and engaging experience made with legitimate passion for its subject matter. It is made for anyone who can appreciate the power of music and tells us the story of a character very few of us would have ever have heard of but after watching this will be glad we have.