Review: I’m Picking Up Good Vibrations

"So, Terri, what do you think of this review?"
“So, Terri, what do you think of this review?”

Biopics are often air-tight affairs, not inclined to take themselves lightly. The outcome is overly structured and filled with expository dialogue nobody has ever uttered. Good Vibrations is a different beast. Not only introduces us to a fascinating, seldom heard story of artistic bravura in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. It has a vibe that transcends the screen, courtesy of a phenomenal soundtrack and a take-no-prisoners performance by Richard Dormer as music impresario Terri Hooley.

Hooley, a folk music lover and all around nice guy, can’t believe the kids he grew up with in the Sixties have become sworn enemies because of their religion. Naively, Terri comes to the conclusion a record store in Downtown Belfast could overcome the volatile divisions between Protestants and Catholics. “Good Vibrations” is born.

The business venture is an abject failure until is discovered by teenage boys in pursuit of early punk recordings. The genre is not Hooley’s cup of tea, but soon realizes the kids want more than music. They are looking for a venue to express themselves. “Good Vibrations” becomes a label and youth from all over North Ireland flocks to the store, hoping to be heard.

Good Vibrations is not a fairy tale. While well intentioned, Terri Hooley’s poor management skills had the company on the verge of bankruptcy for years. The company’s biggest success story were the marginally famous Undertones (“Teenage Kicks” is a hoot and a half), while most other bands under the label never transcended the country’s borders.

The film treatment of the Troubles is remarkable. It doesn’t shy away from violence (it’s always in the background), but the movie’s main concern are the living. Hooley’s refusal to take sides or cowering away makes him a fascinating individual. The fact the story also introduces a number of avenues to be explored on your own time is a bonus.

Four and a half anti-establishment dogs. Good Vibrations is now playing at the RPL.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.

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