Soft Rockby Libby Allen / 15.10.2009
When I saw the trailer some time ago, I decided The Boat That Rockedwould be my movie event for the next while, surely. And then it faded from circuit teasers, and faded some more, and never really reappeared until shazam, there it was on my video store shelf between copies of Hannah Montana and Twilight. Outraged, I shook my fists to the sky. Why, oh why, would a film featuring this cast, this story and these tracks go straight to DVD release? Why?
Oh, boy, I’ll tell you why. Writer-director Richard Curtis (Love, Actually, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary) has, in The Boat That Rocked, created a wannabe rock ‘n roll film, homage to 60s rebellion, approached with the same neat and sweet tendencies of his Brit romcoms so that, while the film presents music and revolution and sex in the cabins, it flounders and fails to excite. Bring together an ensemble including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans and Kenneth Brannagh and it’s pretty difficult to disappoint. Add to that a killer soundtrack and storyline of a pirate radio ship, broadcasting ‘Radio Rock’ from the waters of the North Sea, in battle with the British government, and you should find a feature pounding with rock and raunch. But, with nowhere to go, the film stops short of what it should be, and I’m not really sure why. Women are tossed on and off the ship in the forms of fans and family (save Katherine Parkinson’s sex-starved lesbian cook, who is the only broad allowed in the boys’ club). Hoffman and Ifans are locked in rivalry over the airwaves, Brannagh goose-steps around in the farcical shape of a 50s British Minister flanked by his underdog, Twatt. This should be a great film – the plot is driven by enough Brit-wit and character to be entertaining – but there’s just no danger.
Perhaps, in his feel-good, and admittedly successful ‘I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her’ romcoms, Curtis has been caught by his sentimentality. There isn’t much room for schmaltz in rock ‘n roll. The film lacks risk; the stakes perhaps set too low for it to feel like a piece of any consequence. I still want to love The Boat That Rocked, but I suspect I’ll love on the soundtrack alone. It is a story of a brotherhood and desire for freedom, of fuck yeah that’s rock ‘n roll and goddamn the man. It just feels that the fuck yeah comes out as a polite whisper.