Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rock Actually

What is Richard Curtis driving at? Where is this body of work going? Curtis, when motivated can write deep, thoughtful grown-up characters with complex relationship dynamics. Hell, he can even make Julia Roberts basically playing herself seem down to Earth and relate-able. But his last couple of projects have been scatter shot and not particular whole. By which I mean Love, Actually and his newest film Pirate Radio. Are they enjoyable entertainments? Absolutely. Does he create memorable characters? Certainly. But the movie, which is trying to scratch at some sort of truth about love and music and the unique experience of the swingin' sixties comes off as a bunch of good-natured baby boomer wankery. I yearn for the real genuine humanity on display in his Girl in the Cafe.

This is not to say that Pirate Radio is bad. On the contrary, its quite entertaining. I take issue with the fact that someone of Curtis' considerable talent doesn't push his audience a bit more, he'd have no trouble getting them to follow. He begins to scratch the surface of the pain and regret that was the flip-side of all that free love by having his most lovable lothario character, Dave "The Love Doctor" (Nick Frost, scene stealing as always) pull some genuine dick moves on our young lead character. However, in a tidy little piece like this, the young lovers are easily reconciled if you wait long enough. Something similar happens with Rhys Ifans character and another loser type as well.

Curtis fills the boat with a series of weirdos, scoundrels and hippies who above all things value rock and roll (and maybe sex in a close second). Chief among them is Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Count, which is sort of a riff on his playing Lester Bangs, who's arc features him in a sort of posturing contest with Ifan's Gavin. Our entry point character is young Carl as played by Tom Sturridge. There's nothing especially remarkable about Sturridge who's mother (Emma Thompson) has sent him to the pirate radio station ship that is broadcasting round the clock rock (a major taboo in the UK in the 60's) in order to get closer to his godfather, slick as always Bill Nighy.

For someone who has written some particularly multi-dimensional female characters the women are a bit thin in the film. Primarily used as objects, the film's sexual politics are at best surprising. January Jones, Gemma Arterton and Emma Thompson don't have much to do since woman are only allowed on the ship once a month for sex (except for the token lesbian who's their maid). The same can be said for the film's antagonist as played by Sir Kenneth Branagh who is really just riffing on John Cleese's uptight Basil Fawlty. A lot. He also has an associate named Mr. Twatt and yes, that got a laugh every time. The antagonists are so over the top hiss-able and terribly ineffectual that the only real threat to the boat comes when it gets a hole in it and begins to sink in the final act. At that point the film becomes a storybook version of Titanic with records instead of the poor in steerage as casualties.

Look if you're looking for an afternoon at the movies you can go see with a date or family members where everyone will have a good time and enjoy a pretty throughly excellent soundtrack you can't do much better than this. I just wish the film could do a bit more with its ample resources.

PS-Flight of the Conchords is clearly getting a lot of recognition and traction as Rhys Darby's (who plays Murray on Conchords) entrance and subsequent lines got huge reactions from the crowd.

1 comment:

Laura said...

haven't seen the movie. using this opportunity to exclaim my love of Basil Fawlty! so so much.