Good Vibrations charts the emergence and rise of the Belfast punk scene, seen through the eyes of record store and record label owner Terri Hooley. The film could be described as a spiritual brother to Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People – but while that film indulges in meta-textual fourth wall destruction, Good Vibrations keeps its dirty boots on the ground.
Socialist-minded Terri Hooley (Richard Dormer), dejected at the loss of old friends as the Troubles create a religious civil war, decides to take his substantial record collection and open a record store on the so-called ‘Bomb Alley’ in downtown Belfast. Terri is energised by the explosion of the punk scene and starts a record label to promote local punk bands like the Outcasts, Protex and famously, the Undertones.
The oppressive atmosphere of a perpetually war ravaged city is effectively conveyed, the film taking plenty of time to establish its time and place. The punk movement has suffered from excessive over-analysis, with various commentators trying to decipher the hows and whys of its inception. Good Vibrations’ real triumph is its embrace of the musical revolution. Witness the pure joy that encompasses Terri’s first punk show. No grandstanding about rebellion or artistic purity, no mythologising of musicians: just punk as a celebration. With more than a little rose-tinted nostalgia, this sequence manages to capture everything positive about the movement.
Dormer infuses Terri Hooley with healthy doses of infectious enthusiasm and charming optimism, making disliking him a struggle. Combining the peace and love ethos of his beloved reggae with the anti-authoritarian stance of punk, Terri is a man on a mission, desperately trying to export the thriving local music scene to the outside world. Supporting roles are largely perfunctory, though Jodie Whittaker makes the most of her role as Terri’s wife, Ruth.
When the ‘real world’ finally intrudes during the third act, the film loses much of its momentum. The uplifting finale never quite recaptures the abandon of earlier scenes. Devolving into an oddly clichéd ‘put-on-a-benefit-show-to-save-the-community-hall’ storyline seems lazy in an otherwise original film. However, the film smartly avoids traditional biopic pitfalls by telling the story of the whole movement as much as that of the individual. Terri’s early life is condensed into the mercifully brief (and endearing) prologue.
The film jumps between social realism and quirky comedy with ease, with John Peel’s famous reaction to Teenage Kicks being a suitably joyous highlight. Nothing groundbreaking here, but with excellent period detail and surprisingly slick direction, Good Vibrations is an affecting love letter to the DIY ethos of the 70’s.
– Tom Roe