Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Pirate's Life For Me

Pirate Radio, directed by Richard Curtis (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Love Actually),  hasn’t been well received by the movie critic community.  It lacks general rock and roll raunch, according to some reviewers.  Others go even farther down the bad movie drain, grumbling that the movie rolls when it should rock.

Just like the DJs who disagree with Britain’s anti rock music policy, I completely disagree with these reviewers.  I think it’s only appropriate to flip off the establishment and give them exactly what they want: A Pirate Review.

Pirate Radio tells the story of eight rogue DJs who set sail in the middle of the North Atlantic to play rock music on the air, which was illegal in Great Britain at the time.  Interested in both British pop culture and in floating radio stations alike, I loved every part of this true 1960s account played out on film.

Using their unauthorized station Radio Rock, the eight men and one woman aboard the rusty fishing trawler continue to play music, despite the direct efforts of the British parliament to shut them down, partly for their love of pissing off the government, and mostly for their love of rock and roll. 

With such a small cast, every character immediately makes a memorable impact.  The story begins with Young Carl (Tom Sturridge) arriving on the boat, his mother having banished him to the floating radio after being kicked out of boarding school for the umpteenth time.  She hopes that a little sea air will help set him straight.

Although the “lost boy who has never known his father” storyline slowly carries itself out throughout the movie, it isn’t really central to the rest of the action.  We learn the identity of the missing role model over halfway into the movie, and, if anything, it throws a screeching dose of reality at an otherwise-hysterical film.

Tall and gangly with a hint of preppy bad-boy, Carl instantly fits in on the island of misfit toys led by Quentin (Bill Nighy, Love Actually, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), the ship’s eccentric owner and Carl’s godfather.

This movie was the best laugh-out-loud film I've seen in a long time.  Curtis does a phenomenal job of staging on the cramped boat quarters; no one on the boat has nearly enough space, and the boatload of comical interactions that follow are priceless.

Take Young Carl’s first sexual encounter.  The whole ship bands together in multiple attempts to get Carl laid, which results in several hilarious scenes of sex pep talks and how-to’s, lost condoms, found condoms and, finally, a call to Quentin’s niece, Marianne.  When the act is finally consummated, however, Carl opens his door to find a live broadcast awaiting him; young boys across the country simultaneously cheer as The Count recounts Carl’s encounter, while young girls instantly burst into tears.

Endeavoring to make us Americans proud in every way he can, The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt, Capote), the most popular DJ and the only American on the ship, aspires to be the first DJ to drop the F-bomb on British airways. He rationalizes that “if you shoot a bullet, someone dies. When you drop a bomb, many die. You hit a woman, love dies. But... if you say the f-word, nothing actually happens.”

Momentarily lamenting over his lost opportunity, The Count drops his F-bomb (and many other choice words) numerous times while lamenting over his lost opportunity.  To his gratification, and Quentin’s delighted dismay, the mic was on air the whole time.

His love of swearing like a sailor aside, The Count’s true love of the airways ultimately leads to a DJ-cockfight when the legendary Gavin (Rhys Ifans) makes his return appearance to Radio Rock. A top-of-the-mast chicken game consequently ensues, and despite broken bones and bruised faces, The Count once again does America proud and holds his turf.

Besides playing rock and roll and smoking marijuana all day, the sex-starved disc jockeys are always up for a night of fun when the boatful of women are ferried out to Radio Rock once a month. This night of shagging ends…ahem…well for everyone, except for poor Simon (Chris O’Dowd).

Fans across the country tune in one sunny afternoon to witness Simon’s wedding to the beautiful Elenore, played by Sioux Falls-native January Jones.  Now allowed to live on ship with her new husband, Elenore bluntly asks to move in with Gavin.

Simon’s wife leaves him after 17 hours of marriage, a spectacular feat the rest of the crew never lets him live down. 

Hasty divorces aside, one of the best features of the movie is the soundtrack.  Memorably playing “Elenore” by The Turtles in the background of Simon’s wedding to the same, the music in Pirate Radio lives up the Radio Rock’s expectations.  The CD, which has more than 30 songs and sells for $19.99 on iTunes, also includes “All Day and All of the Night” by The Kinks,  “Hi Ho Silver Lining” by Jeff Beck and “My Generation (Mono Version)” by The Who.

While it may not be something I'd take my mom to, the hilarious characters, the witty dialogue, the phenomenal music and the plain old raunchiness made Pirate Radio excellent not only to me, but clearly to all the twentysomethings in the theater that night. 

After all, that’s what we twentysomethings are supposed to do: flip off the establishment when we feel there’s something worth flipping off.  And Pirate Radio is definitely worth fighting for. 

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