According to the prologue of Richard Curtis’s latest film 1966 was the greatest year ever for rock’n’roll. Now, my musical knowledge consists of intimately knowing the complete work of Radiohead and an over enthusiastic appreciation for what my friend Joe describes as “warbling totty” (Joni Mitchell, Laura Marling etc). So I am sadly unable to state whether this is correct. But judging by the soundtrack to this surprisingly likeable movie, Mr Curtis may have a point.
I say surprisingly likeable, because not only do I love warbling totty but I also appreciate, more than any straight man should, a good old-fashioned romantic comedy. So it stands to reason that I should also like the oeuvre of Richard Curtis (‘Four Weddings’, ‘Notting Hill’, ‘Love, Actually’). The problem is I don’t. I find most of his films nauseatingly terrible with moments of wit that don’t add up to an entire movie. And while ‘The Boat That Rocked’ doesn’t really add up to an entire movie either, it’s quite an entertaining way to spend two hours.
Of course the music helps a lot (The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix etc) but the main draw is the stellar cast. Singularly the actors involved seem to pick winning scripts with a hitherto unknown intelligence, so it stands to reason that there must be something here that could grab the attention of all involved.
A small case of deja vu does occur with the casting choices (Bill Nighy as the elder statesmen who enjoys a toke or two, Philip Seymour Hoffman playing a ‘cooler’ Lester Bangs, Rhys Darby being Murray on a boat, Chris O’ Dowd as a sweet nervous Irishman, Jack Davenport chasing pirates) but they all serve their ‘new’ roles well and as a collective, the friendships they share work.
If all this talk of friendship sounds a little twee and a little less rock and/or roll you’re kind of missing the point. It is still Richard Curtis. There may be less orgies and smack on board this boat, and a little more friends playing ‘Articulate’ and ‘Cluedo’, but after the strangely troubling quasi-rape scene in the first reel this lightening of the tone suits the film much, much better.
There are many things that don’t work. A character’s name being Twatt isn’t nearly as funny as ‘Blackadder’s’ Darling (although I’m sure Curtis hoped it would be) and most of the first half feels like television rather than cinema with conflicts being set-up and resolved within minutes of each other. One such conflict involving Dowd’s nuptuals seems crowbarred in just so the director could have the world’s most highly attended wedding. Richard does love a wedding.
But all in all the film works because its about good friends and good music. Or maybe I enjoyed it because lately I’ve been wanting to own a boat and have a radio show of my own. The two dreams were completely separate before, yet somehow the creator of ‘The Vicar of Sodding Dibley’ has merged them into something tangible. So if anyone out there wants to start their own Pirate Radio station aboard a boat and have someone give ill-informed opinions on film and play nothing but Radiohead and “pretty girls who can sing”, give NME a buzz and they’ll hook us up.