SAM: Good Vibrations, the new film from dual-directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, is a sprightly ode to Terri Hooley (Richard Dormer, in what could very likely be a breakout performance), the owner of the “Good Vibrations” record store/label that is often credited with kick-starting the punk scene in Belfast. Its political underpinnings, however, add a certain vitriol to the mix: the film’s depiction of The Troubles, the bloody, decades-long conflict between nationalists and loyalists in Northern Ireland, is intensely juxtaposed with the spirited musical changes coming to fruition. D’sa and Leyburn seem to be as caught up in the music and times as their benevolent protagonist, providing the film with a pronounced air of revolution — likely the same sort of vibes floating through the eponymous record store during the time period. The quest to make a name for these outcast artists amidst a raging civil war and confused record executives is depicted as an unwavering, often humorous challenge, and it’s one that Hooley combats through his sheer optimism and commitment to the cause. Rather than overtly sentimentalize their hero’s efforts, the directors portray Hooley — like the best biopics — as a man with flaws and uncertainties (including devoting a fair amount of time to the torrid relationship with his socialist father who stands outside the doors of his new business and protests) and the jovial filmmaking is frequently undercut by scenes of sharp emotional potency. As a buoyant character study and a fierce statement on music and politics, Good Vibrations is a lively and rounded portrait of “the Godfather of Punk Rock” who, like the John Peel mantra used in the film, believes firmly in “the revolutionary power of the seven-inch single.”
SPENCER: With Good Vibrations, D’Sa and Leyburn mine the turmoil of 1970s Belfast to find pockets of personal revolution, the kind found — with this case — in small communities that came together by way of rebellious artistic ambition and a general apathy towards the major conflict(s) of the time. As “The Troubles” simmer and flare in the periphery of the plot, Hooley plays his outsider status as trump to the religious and political divisions around him, opting instead to find personal worth and a livable standing by opening a record store. Through his discovery of the local punk scene, Hooley finds the aesthetic equivalent of his own sensibility and believes spreading it to the people will spark some kind of social change — or, at the very least, shake things up a bit. The directors see Terri Hooley as a DIY hero, a man whose continual on-and-off success represents a belief in the importance of music — of art — as a unifying force that transcends the never-ending battles plaguing the populace. It’s a familiar theme, but Good Vibrations finds its stride in locating those ideas in a true story of rather intimate proportions, asserting such small-scale circumstances have no less of value than a more visibly widespread revolution.
Good Vibrations opens in Toronto at TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday, December 20, 2013.