The Boat that Rocked (2009)
by Dan Haggard
The Boat that Rocked (2009) – written and directed by Richard Curtis – has a lot of the elements that would ordinarily cause me to hate a movie. I generally can’t stand Baby Boomers waxing lyrical about the 60s. The myth of Rock and Roll, as some kind of oppositional force against the oppression of moldy elites, usually makes me roll my eyes – then puke – then eat that puke – and vomit it all up again. What’s more, feel good stories strangely enough make me feel less than good. In fact, I tend to find my kill-all-humans meter off the charts after watching a feel good movie. This film has all these elements and yet none of these negative effects manifested. In fact, I found myself laughing out loud, and actually feeling quite good for it. But what’s even more hilarious than the movie itself, is reading all the reviews by folks that had to express their disapproval at one component or another. This is another under-appreciated movie that to my knowledge hasn’t even made back its investment. It almost certainly will become a cult classic – and I’m going to tell you why.
Now one has to confess that it doesn’t really bear deep analysis. Animal House became a cult classic, but the application of the rubric of analysis there would have been somewhat futile. So to with the Boat that Rocked. The thing about “funny” – and particularly the often puerile kind of “funny” involved in this movie – is that analysis tends to have this somewhat ruinous effect on one’s enjoyment. But being something of a wordy fellow, it’s my obligation to provide something of an insight as to why you should see it, beyond the mere: it’s awesome! Luckily, however, there are enough silly people in the world that allow themselves to become part of the parodiable narrative. So after a short plot review and a presentation of it essential elements, I’ll turn my attention to the kind of silliness this movie generated.
It’s the story of a pirate rock and roll radio station broadcasting from a boat off the coast of Britain in the 1960s. A nasty and anal government minister, played by Kenneth Branagh, is trying to shut them down. Embodied in this heady dialectic is aforementioned myth of 60s Rock-n-Roll rebellion – but really it’s little more than a comedic device. The movie is a parody and send up of this vision of the sixties and anyone who takes it seriously, either to vicariously live the myth or condemn it as inaccurate, is just an idiot. I warn you – do not take this movie seriously. When a particular plot thread explodes in absurdity, that’s a cue to laugh, not to feel disappointed because you didn’t get closure.
The best example of this is when the evil minister and his sidekick Twatt arrange to kill off the radio station by making it illegal for advertisers to use the radio station for promotion. The captain of the boat, played awesomely by Bill Nighy, counters by bringing back the god of radio rock; Gavin Star DJ (also played awesomely by one of my favourites, Rhys Ifans). Such is the godlike nature of this man that he can completely foil the governments plan by his mere presence. This is of course, ridiculous – and therefore incredibly hilarious. Gavin arrives on the deck of the boat with much swagger and fan fare, and when the introductions are finished, he demands that someone give him a microphone for he’s “got to broadcast”.
Yet you see many reviewers complaining that the plot doesn’t make sense, or is too fractured or wishy washy in some sense. At the heart of this complaint is that Curtis, known for producing somewhat formulaic but beloved romantic comedies like Four Weddings and a Funeral, doesn’t include any of his any of his standard romantic schtick in this movie. These sorts of complaints are made by the likes of James Christopher. It’s hard to have sympathy for a review that demands a director stick to his formula. It’s criticism like this that results in the largely bland cinema that we have today.
But perhaps the silliest review comes from Peter Bradshaw, complains at length about the film’s sexism and lack of strong female characters. Honestly, is this guy for real? Does he even know the meaning of the word ‘parody’? Clearly not, because he ends up making himself the type of character you would find working for the evil minister. Someone who has no idea how to not to take something seriously and just enjoy things.
Ultimately, if puerile and pointless humour is not something that you’ve ever enjoyed. Please just stay away from this film. If you make the mistake of watching it and not liking it – please just keep your mouth shut. There will be plenty of people who will, and this movie deserves to find its market.