Richard Curtis is the kind of writer/director who usually divides audiences. People either fall head over heels for his brand of English middle-class pap filled to the brim with gloopy romance, or they loathe it with a passion. I’m sort of halfway in regards to the man’s work—Notting Hill pissed me off to no end, yet I found myself liking Love, Actually against my will (the awesome Alan Rickman may have had something to do with that).
Curtis’ latest excursion into the multiplexes, The Boat That Rocked, is set up to be at least a fair bit more subversive than the man’s usual output—he’s not dealing with goofy and loveable Hugh Grant and his misfortunes with pretty women who wouldn’t know how to talk romantically if they were coached in it for ten years by a resurrected Casanova, thank God, but the crew of a 1960s pirate radio crew, fighting the system and doing drugs and having sex, that sort of thing. However, initial appearances can be deceiving, and the fact that it’s not actually based on any true stories indicates that Curtis is going to file the story’s teeth down so much that it won’t have any bite whatsoever, unless you think gumming is just as effective.
Curtis’ script is fairly conventional stuff—oh look, they’ve got romance troubles; oh look, now they’re breaking the law; oh look, now Kenneth Branagh’s twirling his pantomime moustache; oh look, now they’ve got romance troubles again. However, the cast gamely run with what they’re given, and they basically make the film good. Philip Seymour Hoffman is great, if on autopilot, as a laidback American DJ, and he’s supported ably by typecast—but nevertheless enjoyable—actors such as Bill Nighy, Rhys Darby, Nick Frost and Branagh. The cast work off each other well and bring their characters to life, remarkable given how two-dimensional they are, and they infuse the film with an overwhelming sense of fun.
The film’s standouts, though, are Rhys Ifans—riotous as a womanising, hypnotising shock-jock prototype—and Chris O’Dowd (The I.T. Crowd), finally being given a well-deserved big break with the most meaty role in the film, as the hopeless romantic aboard a ship of lechs.
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The Boat That Rocked is a fun, frothy film, a safe date movie or, if you’re like me, a movie to go to by yourself and laugh at while trying to ignore the guy behind you jerking off (I’m not kidding, true story).
Written and directed by Richard Curtis
With Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Rhys Darby,
Kenneth Branagh, Nick Frost, Jack Davenport and Chris O’Dowd