Ship the light fantastic – The Boat That Rocked review

The Boat That Rocked – Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Nick Frost and Rhys Ifans. Directed by Richard Curtis. 129 mins.

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with rock and roll. Following my grandfather’s passing, I was sent into his attic to clear out any boxes that might lay there. I uncovered the entire Beatles back catalogue on vinyl, signed by each member of the band. Apparently, my granddad had got to know the Liverpudlians when they played Melbourne back in ’64. As my father later told me, pop had shared the weekend of his life with Paul, John, George and Ringo, and maintained friendships with the lot of them until the day he died. As a tribute to my late grandfather, I ploughed through each LP on his old record player, opening up my eyes to a brand new world of wonder.

Actually, none of that is true. But doesn’t it sound nice? It’s certainly more appealing than the truth, which is quite simply that I worked at a record store for several years and educated myself accordingly. But sometimes the truth doesn’t accurately describe the significance that music can have on your life, or even the role it plays in defining generations. The Boat That Rocked is no documentary. It takes a more fantastical approach to good old rock and roll, painting in large brush strokes with striking, cotton-candy colours.

Taking his cue from A Hard Day’s Night, Richard Curtis’ latest is a rollicking music video of a movie. Based on the pirate radio stations of the sixties, The Boat That Rocked tells the fictional tale of a boatload of sex-crazed, alcohol-swilling and (presumably) drug-addled rock and roll DJ’s. Radio Rock sits anchored off the English coast, broadcasting to over 20 million music-starved Brits. On board and on the air are The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman, once again channelling Lester Bangs), lady-killers Gavin (Rhys Ifans) and Dr Dave (Nick Frost), the unlovable Angus (Rhys Darby) and the ultra lovable Simple Simon (Chris O’Dowd). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The story begins when the station’s boss Quentin (a sadly underutilised Bill Nighy) welcomes his virginal godson Carl (Tom Sturridge) aboard. Apparently Carl’s been sent there to get straightened out after having been caught smoking. This is not the boat you get straightened out on. Meanwhile, Radio Rock is angering politician’s big time. Why? Well, because politicians are squares man! And that’s about the only reason given, but I’m willing to go along with it. Kenneth Branagh hams it up as a British Minister intent on shutting the station down.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the volume of characters I’ve described, you’re not alone. Curtis needed to take a sharp pair of scissors to this script before setting sail into production. There are too many characters, too many tales, and too many minutes for what should have been a breezy comedy. Plot threads are raised, and then dropped in favour of newer ones. Characters disappear for large stretches of time. The only constant is Branagh’s vindictive politician and his quest to get pirate radio banned. Sadly, this is the least interesting aspect of the film. I would have much rather stayed aboard Radio Rock and enjoyed their anarchic adventures.

For all its flaws, The Boat That Rocked is a hard movie not to love. Like Carry On meets Help! Curtis injects his earnest Britishness into a subject well worth being proud of – rock and roll. The soundtrack is blisteringly infectious, and even the inclusion of some well worn classics is welcome. However, Curtis seems intent on making THE GREATEST MUSIC MOVIE OF ALL TIME, just as Love Actually was meant to be THE GREATEST ROMANTIC COMEDY OF ALL TIME. Neither film earns that distinction, although The Boat That Rocked gets closer. At the very least, it will have you feeling all gooey and nostalgic about a time you may not have been around for. And if you were, well, if you’re anything like the crew of Radio Rock, you probably wouldn’t remember it anyway.


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5 Responses to “Ship the light fantastic – The Boat That Rocked review”

  1. if you think PSHoffman reprises his Lester Bangs, then you need to know that the Twatt characterisatio by Branagh is absolutelyCHANNELLING Peter Sellers in I’m Alright Jack.I loved this film, it was a breezy romp, (except for the boat-crisis scene nodding to British classic film ‘The Cruel Sea’) and the bucks night scene was pure Richard Lester.

  2. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.Ruth

  3. Richmond, to me, sounds like a bot who learned to read the words in the word verification box.Would you recommend waiting for DVD for this one, or is it worth the cinema?I’ve seen the previews, and so far I don’t know how moved I am…Please Simon, share your wisdom!

  4. well Chingsabob, if that is your real name (which I highly doubt it is), here is my condensed recommendation:The film is much, much better than the previews imply.The soundtrack and cast are all brilliant, and somewhere within the 130 minute running time is a sharp, entertaining 90 minute comedy.However, it does run far too long, and without enough laughs to sustain more than 2 hours of your attention.Ultimately, I can’t imagine too many people leaving the cinema unsatisfied. Therefore, while it is a very flawed movie, it is a VERY satisfying one.Wisdom imparted.(P.S – I have a feeling Richmond might be a cylon)

  5. Cylons are people too, Simon.

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