Living in a world dominated by over-engineered, cynically manufactured disposable pop it's easy to forget that the more pure origins of modern music are barely half a century old. Back in the 60s, rock and roll simultaneously shocked and breathed new life in to a stuffy post war populace. The Boat That Rocked isn't some serious factually-accurate glance back at this bygone era, but a gleeful love letter to a time when pop music first exploded and became the soundtrack to a new, more open-minded generation at odds with it's more staid predecessors.
Caught smoking in the toilets of his all-boys public school, Carl is sent by his mother to live with his godfather in an attempt to give him some moral guidance and a proper male role model. The minor problem with this plan is that ultra-languid godfather Quentin (Bill Nighy) runs, along with his rag-tag band of DJs, a pirate rock and roll radio station off a ship in the North Sea and is most definitely the wrong place to send an impressionable young lad to put him on the straight and narrow. However, the fun and free-spirited nature of the boat and its crew is exactly the kind of party lifestyle that is every young man's dream. Meanwhile, back on shore the government launches a moral crusade headed up by ultra-conservative minister Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) to crush the pirates for what they see as the shameless promotion of an amoral hedonistic lifestyle.
In The Boat That Rocked, writer/director Richard Curtis has formed a slight, but immensely enjoyable tribute to the bygone era of the Swinging Sixties. It is one of those movies less concerned with gripping you with the drama of the conflict between the DJs and their government counterparts than simply sweeping you along with the fun being had by the characters living this wild lifestyle, while poking fun at the ridiculously draconian views expressed by an old guard raised on nothing but the classics. The characters do crazy things, a couple of secrets are revealed and there's even a slightly out of leftfield action climax at the end. But the cast is spot on, from leads such as Philip Seymour Hoffman's dry Count down to square newsman John. The laughs are pretty constant, with the whole thing set to a fantastically omnipresent soundtrack of some of the biggest hits of the time. If you’re that one of the tracks being played was released in 1968 even though the movie is set in 1966, this isn't the movie for you. This is a rose-tinted celebration of an era that asks you to come in and join the fun, rather than a factually examining history.
If the movie suffers from anything, it’s a bloated running time. Though the plot is pretty light, The Boat That Rocks clocks in at over two hours. While this may have been, in Curtis's mind, a way to try and service the characters of his large ensemble, it could been trimmed down without losing the overall effect. In addition to running time problems, there’s not much here for female viewers. The film contains few female characters, and except for the ship’s lesbian cook, all are reduced to little more than fleeting sex objects.
The Boat That Rocked may not be a comedy classic, but its energy and spirit, coupled with an awesome soundtrack and a constant stream of good humor provide an entertaining couple of hours for anyone who likes to rock and roll.
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