Across the pond, Good Vibrations has been considered a crowd pleaser. During its release earlier this year, its swept audiences off their feet with vivacious music and a profound true story about Terri Hooley’s struggle with individuality in 1970’s Belfast and acquiring peace through music.
This holiday season, Toronto gets the opportunity to see this highly regarded movie. Well, call me a Grinch because Good Vibrations didn’t do it for me.
I don’t wish the film ill will. I’m glad Good Vibrations has found a vast audience and is receiving a healthy dose of recognition. It’s a film that understands the threat that lingered amongst this community in the 70’s and how powerfully emotional an audible medium can be. There’s a scene where Hooley first listens to ‘Teenage Kicks’ by The Undertones that’s absolutely tingling as he falls in love with the band.
My problem with Good Vibrations is that it has grave difficulty portraying these feelings reflecting the danger of Belfast and Hooley’s relentless dedication. It wants to play its cards as safely as possible.
It’s a film that feels too cozy and clean. Mind you, that’s how Terri Hooley is represented in Good Vibrations. Richard Dormer plays Terri as endearing as possible and movie goers will enjoy watching him. It’s hard to call him and his business underdogs because of how aggressive they both are to get things done and secure success.
But, that heartwarming softness can only affect so much of the story if filmmakers Lisa Barros D’sa and Glenn Leyburn plan to flawlessly show conflict. They’ve let this friendly approach latch onto the more fearful events unfolding around Hooley, which doesn’t make us nervous for anyone or anything at all.
Ditto for the punk movement Hooley sinks deep into. The film lets us know that punk music may have been aberrant, but it wasn’t soaking in nihilism or booming vocals. It was an expressive genre of music that freely accepted misfits and wanderers. They were all lost boys under Terri Hooley’s Peter Pan-lite supervision.
The punk movement is represented as very cutesy as it overextends to be likeable and chummy. We never see the other side of the coin that could convince outsiders that these band members are rebellious. Everyone is very colourful and snappy, and they’re not developed past their bubbly demeanours.
It’s not the fault of the actors. As stated, Dormer does an exceptional job, and the remaining cast pull off decent enough performances as well. It’s the way D’sa and Leyburn’s vision lacks depth or any sort of edge. The film caters to the simplest of needs in order to garner a smile out of the average movie goer. There’s barely any humanism in this true story. Just a lot of “feel good” easy targets.
It made me more let down to see that Good Vibrations had the capabilities to be substantial and show a smattering of darker, fleshed out tones. These happen when Terri’s business life starts bleeding into his personal life. But, the filmmakers only brush by these instances quickly to get back to the flash. All it took were basic lighting changes and a bit more conviction from the directors during these more somber moments and they had me. I was genuinely interested in what was to come. Instead, this featherlight flick made me feel nothing.
Good Vibrations did incline me to revisit Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, however. Now, there’s a movie that’s groundbreaking with its visual panache, its use of music, and a unique sense of humour. It’s even based on a true story too. It’s everything Good Vibrations wishes it could be.