Movies about the punk scene are fairly common, but this is the first I’ve seen that looks at the element of that scene that grew up around the euphemistically named ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland in the late 1970s. But not only that it looks at a man dubbed a ‘Godfather’ of that scene, Terri Hooley.
If I’m going to be totally honest there are hundreds of films with the same look and feel as Good Vibrations, its gritty enough to be real, has a good dose of ‘local’ humour and uses a pop culture trend to counterpoint a bigger more ‘serious’ issue. But, what Good Vibrations does with this, is show us a man who seemed to get the ethos of the particular brand of punk and politics he was into just right.
What first struck me about the film was the way it used documentary footage from the era it was set to show what was really going on and, in my case anyway, teach me something about the escalation of events in Northern Ireland into what became the Troubles which I remember being all over the news when I was younger but didn’t really know much about.
This, along with a brief introduction to Terri Hooley as a child, sets the scene so, when we are dropped into mid-70s Belfast and opening of the Good Vibrations record shop, we know exactly what is going on.
From here we see Terri discover punk in a truly uplifting moment when a gig by Rudi and The Outcasts is infiltrated by the Royal Ulster Constabulary who are sent packing in no uncertain terms by the power of the music coming off the stage.
Scenes like this did make me wonder about the authenticity of events being shown, but, whether they were real or not, the feeling the film gives off throughout is that the essence and motivation of what we see is real, which is really what is to be expected from films ‘based on’ or ‘inspired by’ actual events.
As the film goes on we see more of these landmark events with Terri’s trip to London (which introduced John Peel to The Undertones debut Teenage Kicks) and a tour of Northern Ireland by Good Vibrations’ bands. This is backed up by the story of Terri’s home life and how it doesn’t always fit well when the Good Vibrations world breaks through.
Again this is all stuff we’ve seen a hundred times before, but it is the message of the movie and the performance of Michael Dormer as Terri that really make this film stand out.
Dormer is not an actor I am very familiar with (other than his small role as Beric Dondarrion in Game of Thrones), but, it is clear just from a brief look at his other work that he really disappears into the role of Hooley making it an utterly convincing portrayal of him that, while I assume heightened, still feels real.
The message is the other thing and is threaded through the film through the character of Hooley’s socialist father. This culminates in a spectacular ending that shows how powerful music can be at transmitting a message of unity even in the face of extreme situations and certainly strikes a chord with me (although I have never lived through the extreme circumstances) and despite the ups and downs of the life portrayed, makes this a feel good film in a real and genuine way that is rarely seen but always appreciated when it appears and is about as far from the Hollywood idea of ‘feel good’ as its possible to get.
And, well, because if its good enough for John Peel its more than good enough for me: