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Pirate Radio

a film by Richard Curtis

It may be considered fluff by many and it may play fast and loose with the facts (in the film's defense, the poster does make the effort to say "inspired" by true events instead of "based on") and it may have no clearly defined throughline instead opting for loosely attached vignettes (again, in defense, Altman did the same thing in his films and was praised for it most of the time), yet for all its perceived faults, the one thing Pirate Radio, set in 1966, does have going for itself is the ability to rock & roll. Irreverent and insolent, flippant and impertinent, whimsical and downright cheeky, Pirate Radio does what Taking Woodstock, another similarly time-stamped film from earlier in the year, could not do. That is, to make rock & roll fun. Where Woodstock director Ang Lee used music as merely peripheral nuance in the story of one man's attempt to define himself - and not his generation - Pirate director Richard Curtis uses music to not only define that very generation, but to make his irreverent, insolent, flippant, impertinent, whimsical and downright cheeky movie all that more irreverent, insolent, flippant, impertinent, whimsical and downright cheeky.

As far as the story goes, it is 1966 and the British government has (mostly) outlawed rock & roll on the radio. In reaction to this, a slew of pirate radio stations opened upon the airwaves, playing rock & roll all day and all of the night. The only difference between these stations and other pirate radio stations is the fact that, much like real pirates of lore (at least movie lore) these stations have taken to the sea in their very own pirate radio ships. Full of wonderfully planted performances from the dapper Bill Nighy, the eccentric scene-stealing Rhys Ifans, the enigmatic comic Nick Frost and the token American character's character Philip Seymour Hoffman - as well as Kenneth Branagh as a sinister government agent and Emma Thompson as a swinging MILF - Pirate Radio is the most pure fun for fun's sake this critic has had at the movies in a long time. Sure, the film may be a bit on the lighter side of the comedic spectrum - it is by the man who directed Love Actually and was one of the creative forces behind such fellow light flare as Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral - but then its irreverence alluded to before, much like with the quite entertaining Love Actually, more than makes up for any fluffiness which may be included. Even counteracts it if you will.

Yet if one were to watch the original UK version of the film (called The Boat That Rocked across the pond) before nearly twenty minutes were excised for stateside release, one may not think it all that light. Scenes that flesh out characters and give insight into many a psyche (as well as a tribute to the Beatles who are the few not among the great accompanying soundtrack) apparently are not meant for American moviegoers eyes - nor are about a half a dozen more songs. There are another 45 minutes or so of cutting room floor footage available on the UK DVD of The Boat That Rocked on top of all that. Yet here in the United States of America, even in its truncated version, Pirate Radio does that one thing it most desperately needs to do - rock & roll. Or should I say, in my loudest and bravest voice, ROCK & ROLL!!! - emphasizing the final lines of the film, shouted by several of the ensemble cast somewhere in that blessed morning after the inevitable Titanic finale (I actually found this ending to be more cinematically dramatic than the cheesy finale to Cameron's aforementioned blockbuster). After all, that is what this rreverent, insolent, flippant, impertinent, whimsical and downright cheeky movie is about. Rock & Roll. [11/21/09]

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