Good Vibrations: Karlovy Vary Film Review

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Official Site
Lightweight but likable musical bio resurrects a forgotten chapter from Irish punk rock history. 

Charming musical film kicks off the festival with the right energy, but is "too parochial to draw much attention in America."

The opening night film at this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Good Vibrations, is a rousing musical film without any great artistic depth but with the right energy for a festival kickoff.  It takes place in Belfast during the savage political conflicts of the 1970s, but politics is mainly in the background during this cheeky account of the raucous, reckless life of real-life music promoter Terri Hooley (Richard Dormer).  While the film benefits from fine performances and lively musical numbers, it’s a bit too parochial to draw much attention in America.  The thick Irish accents are an added drawback for stateside audiences.  Nevertheless, the film has considerable charm. 

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The son of a socialist firebrand who ran for office and lost every election, Terri inherited some of his father’s anarchic spirit.  His own mission is to take his countrymen’s minds off the Troubles by opening a record store (called Good Vibrations) right in the heart of the most violent district in Belfast.  Gradually the place develops a following, and Terri starts a small record label to launch some of the punk bands he discovers (including the Undertones and the Outcasts).  He has no business acumen, and although he achieves a few hit records, he never finds a way to parlay his modest successes into an enduring career.  But then he’s in the business for the love of music, not out of any desire to become an entrepreneur.

Terri’s irresponsibility eventually costs him his marriage.  His wife (Jodie Whittaker) loves his purity, but when they have a baby, his carelessness finally pushes her away.  We can understand her frustration, but we also come to value Terri’s sheer passion for his avocation.  There’s a touching scene with his father, who has never really approved of Terri’s apolitical hedonism.  But when Terri is beginning to feel like a failure, his father observes that although he never won an election, he got a few more votes every time he ran for office, and he comments sagely that victories cannot always be counted by numbers alone.  It’s one of the most touching father-son affirmations seen in any recent film.

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Directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn intersperse a good deal of newsreel footage from Belfast in the 70s to fix the historical context.  But the main emphasis is on the characters and the music.  Much of the success of the film depends on the performance of Dormer.  He conveys both the impudence and the cluelessness of this feckless music fanatic.  Whittaker is immensely appealing as his put-upon wife, and the kids playing the musicians bring the right ferocity to their performances.  The movie climaxes with a concert at a huge hall in Belfast that turns out to be successful beyond Terri’s wildest dreams—except that he neglects to charge admission to most of the crowd.  The film honors the spirit of a wildly impractical man.

Venue:  Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

Cast:  Richard Dormer, Jodie Whittaker, Liam Cunningham, Dylan Moran, Adrian Dunbar, Andrew Simpson

Directors:  Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn

Screenwriters:  Glenn Patterson, Colin Carberry

Producers:  Chris Martin, Andrew Eaton, David Holmes, Bruno Charlesworth

Director of photography:  Ivan McCullough

Production designer:  Derek Wallace

Music:  David Holmes, Keefus Green

Editor:  Nick Emerson

Sales:  The Works International

No rating, 97 minutes