On DVD: Pirate Radio

Rock ‘n roll embodies what we want out of our movies from time to time: letting loose and having fun: throwing aside order and morality for a time, however brief. In the ’60s, rock music was the essence of such “rebellion” and “Love, Actually” filmmaker Richard Curtis and his latest film, “Pirate Radio,” capture the rock ‘n roll spirit without dishing it out in the form of some “educational” period film.

The cast rocks the boat in this light-spirited comedy. Bill Nighy struts his comedic stuff once more for Curtis along with other veterans such as Kenneth Branagh as the politician scheming to take the boat off the air and Emma Thompson in a brief role. The up-and- comers on the list include “Flight of the Conchords” co-star Rhys Darby, Jack Davenport (“Coupling” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”), Nick Frost (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,”), Rhys Ifans, Gemma Arterton (“Quantum of Solace”) and “Mad Men’s” January Jones. The lone American is the multi-talented Philip Seymour Hoffman.

In spite of all the many characters, there are no vignettes like in “Love, Actually,” so the film gets much more chummy with the viewer: you feel as if this is exactly what life would be like on a boat full of people whose job it is to just play rock ‘n roll music and have a great time. We come at the boat through the eyes of an innocent young man named Carl (Tom Sturridge) who is about to get a full taste of the rock ‘n roll life style, especially when it comes to learning about the opposite sex. In this way, “Pirate Radio” is like a more care and drama-free version of Cameron Crowe’s ode to rock, “Almost Famous.”

The film lacks purposeful movement despite the small, non-threatening antagonism of Branagh and Davenport’s characters trying to do their job and shut them down, but then again, the main characters don’t have much purposeful direction either. They’re on a boat playing rock ‘n roll and making suggestive comments on the air to thousands of people. Numerous scenes could be best described as “dance breaks” where Curtis cuts off and on the boat between the guys on board having a blast and the everyday people listening in and dancing as a ’60s rock staple plays on the soundtrack. It’s aimless and silly, but that’s exactly the point.

You don’t get to know all the main characters too intimately, but Curtis humanizes them in several scenes with jokes, games and buddy-buddy insults that don’t drive the plot but make “Pirate Radio” an easy watch and a true comedy, not something that happens to be funny but insists on being dramatic at its core. But the film still has plenty of heart, the kind Curtis has become known for. The relaxed sexual attitude of the film like the near-heartbreaking scene when Carl thinks he’s getting lucky with the young Marianne (Talulah Riley) only she’s fallen for the celebrity of the rotund but charming DJ Doctor Dave (Frost).

And like any good movie about music, the soundtrack makes a big statement. Although sometimes more overt than subtly complementing the mood or story (like Leonard Cohen’s “So Long, Marianne” and The Turtles’ “Elenor” directly after scenes where characters with those names are introduced), the feel is dead-on for this laid-back movie. Those obvious choices also make the eternally true point that there’s a song for every moment in life, which is why rock ‘n roll didn’t die in the face of those that tried to defeat it.

3.5/5 Stars

Pirate Radio
Written and Directed by Richard Curtis
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Tom Sturridge


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