Movie Review: "Pirate Radio"

Director Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Love Actually) returns with another brilliant ensemble masterpiece.  Okay, ‘masterpiece’ may be going a bit far for this free-willing, hippy-loving comedy, but Pirate Radio delivers exactly what audiences are looking for.  This witty film has an all-star cast that’s absolutely hilarious and that work wonderfully together.  Pirate Radio is truly about rock and roll and the life it lead for people in the 1960’s.  Every scene was laugh-out-loud funny with scenarios dealing with none other than love, sex and rock and roll.  There is something in this film for everyone in the adult audience, and probably even more so for dedicated music lovers.  This isn’t just a movie about how pirate radio took the United Kingdom by storm but about friendships and rebellion against something that feels so right.  Pirate Radio may be too ‘Hollywood’ toward the end, but it’s one of those feel good free-spirited movies that successfully transports the audience to a different era to the world these DJ’s lived and partied in.

In 1966, the British government only allowed two hours of rock and pop music every week to be played over the airwaves.  In a country that’s home to such rock and roll greats as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and a huge pop market, the only way for millions of Brits to hear their favorite music would depend on pirate radio.  Rock Radio broadcasted from a large boat just out of British jurisdiction avoiding any legal action until government minister Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) desperately attempts to ban pirate radio by adding new laws and hiring an assistant with a comical name of Twatt played by Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean, “Flash Forward”).  This leads the crew aboard the boat to trust in the power of music and come together to continue to be able to broadcast what they love.

The disk jockey’s onboard are ran by Rock Radio owner and ship’s captain Quentin (Bill Nighy) and include the risky and unconventional DJ known as The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman); the radio heartthrob brought back to help keep Radio Rock on the air Gavin (Rhys Ifans); girlfriend stealing yet silly Dave (Nick Frost); eccentric New Zealander Angus (Rhys Darby); late, LATE night DJ Bob (Ralph Brown); a clueless young man well-known as Thick Kevin (Tom Brooke); Simon (Chris O’Dowd); ladies man Mark (Tom Wisdom); Harold (Ike Hamilton); news reporter John (Will Adamsdale); and the only girl allowed aboard because she’s a lesbian, Felicity (Katherine Parkinson).

As you can see, it’s quite the cast!  Everyone aboard is hilarious and just as outlandish as the next.  The films focal point is more geared toward Quentin’s godson Carl (Tom Sturridge) who comes aboard by request of his mother not realizing what he’s getting himself into.   The boat is truly just one insane never-ending party with girls only being allowed to come aboard biweekly allowing craziness to ensue when visiting.  It’s good the writer/director/producer Richard Curtis created this focal point to bring the story somewhere.  Without this plot, the movie could have been all over the place, but fortunately we are given one main story along with quite a few other subplots to follow causing the audience to care a little more for each character with a means to the end.

Above all else, if it’s not the superb cast or the great comedy that will make you see the movie, the soundtrack alone is reason enough!  With such classics from The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson, The Miracles, and countless more; it’s no doubt that everyone will become a little in touch with their musical side.  These are powerful momentous ballads that can bring emotions and memories out of everybody… young or old.  The song selection was perfect, and with so many to choose from, I am impressed with the ones that were chosen.  Each song really gives the audience a sense of the time and place these people are living in.  The music meant so much to these DJ’s and their acting shows it.  Be prepared to have an odd urge to run out and buy some records after this film.  If anything, Pirate Radio reminds us how wonderful classic rock and roll is and the bond it brings between all of us.

When you really get down to it, this film really is just a fun ensemble comedy, but upon a closer look it is actually quite deep.  The movie turns more into what their lives were like on the boat and how their broadcasts had such an impact on the UK.  There is still the story about the British government bringing Radio Rock and all pirate radio stations down, but the story remains on the boat and how far they will go to share their favorite music.

Pirate Radio has your average well budgeted ‘indy’ feel and is very typical of a Focus Features picture.  This is a movie we have come to expect from Focus Features and a Working Title production.  These two production houses deliver mostly unique stories with dialogue driven scenes that tend to do well with word of mouth.  I expect Pirate Radio to travel well through moviegoers and would definitely say this film is well worth your 10+ dollars.

This is a great story and feel good movie, however I am not so sure that it should have been as happy-go-lucky as it was.  The majority of the film feels natural and realistic until we get towards the climax where I felt it became too sensationalized or ‘Hollywoody’.  It became too typical and unrealistic for a story based on facts.  I understand why it finishes the way it did and I’m sure the investors asked for a more grand big studio ending, but it doesn’t feel true to the film or the story.  I found myself rolling my eyes toward the end, but the laughs kept coming and I was still a little happy of the stories end result.  Nonetheless, it took the uniqueness and originality away from the film causing me to be a little less impressed.

Performances were still awesome along with the script.  I was most pleased by the cast of characters and how they all interacted with one another.  And by all means, this is still a top notch film.  Now, it’s time to turn on some of The Kinks.

 

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Joel Covey
Joel has been writing for SoCalThrills for the past decade covering entertainment, events, and theater since joining the site. He is a CSUF alum, studying within the Communication and Radio / TV / Film colleges.