This genial biopic of the ‘Godfather of Belfast Punk’, Terri Hooley, is a litany of rock-movie clichés: battered transit vans, seedy dives, heroic outsiders, shifty label execs, abandoned spouses, missed chances, take-all gambles and industrial quantities of cheap lager. None of which stops ‘Good Vibrations’ from being an impassioned, funny and monumentally likable myth-making comedy.
Much of the film’s charm is down to frontman Richard Dormer, a bit-part veteran whose wry, sly and sweetly sarcastic turn as Hooley deserves to make him a star. We first meet him working as a pub DJ in Troubles-torn mid-’70s Belfast, drained by the comedown from the Summer of Love and buffeted by the violent changes taking place in his beloved city. When he meets a good woman – Jodie Whittaker’s Ruth – and opens a record shop, the Good Vibrations of the title, Terri’s life begins to turn around. But it’s only when he discovers local punk band The Outcasts – and, hot on their heels, Derry’s favourite sons The Undertones – that he really finds his calling.
How much of this actually happened is a matter for conjecture, but it’s not especially relevant: like its similarly ramshackle and joyous predecessors ‘Velvet Goldmine’ and ‘24 Hour Party People’, ‘Good Vibrations’ is interested less in truth and more in, to paraphrase ‘Spinal Tap’, ‘the sights, sounds and smells’ of trench-level rock ‘n’ roll. But there’s a more serious side here that those films could never replicate: Belfast in the ’70s was a war zone, and the impact this has on Hooley and his beloved punks is truly eye-opening. It’s this simmering sense of dread and conflict which gives ‘Good Vibrations’ its edge, and allows its many moments of uplift to shine that much brighter.