The Boat That Rocked aka Pirate Radio (2009)

(In French, On TV, October 2015)  I’m always fascinated by the oddball pockets of pop-culture history, and The Boat the Rocked revolves around something I didn’t know about—the pirate radio stations that broadcast rock music from the seas surrounding Great Britain in the late sixties and early seventies.  Writer/director Richard Curtis fashions an ensemble comedy from various anecdotes and music of the era, never sticking too close to reality (thus introducing anachronisms that even colonials will be able to spot) but delivering a moderately entertaining film with an unexpectedly spectacular conclusion.  The film begins as a young man makes his way to such a seaborne pirate station, meeting its various eccentric DJs and getting a close look at the government’s efforts to shut down the pirates.  Numerous amusing moments follow.  The cast is filled with known names goofing off, from Philip Seymour Hoffman’s unabashedly American DJ to owner Bill Nighy to Nick Frost as a sex-obsessed cad.  Rock Music is at the heart of the film, so you can expect a great soundtrack. (Fortunately, the French version of the film retains the original music, which compensates somewhat for the loss of the original actors’ voices.) The Boat That Rocked does take a turn for the unexpectedly dramatic toward the end, providing a big-scale conclusion to a film that seemed happy without such spectacle until then.  It mostly manages to hit its target, but there is a gnawing sense that the film isn’t as good as it could have been given its subject matter and capable actors.  The sprawling ensemble cast gets difficult to distinguish aside from the name actors, and the episodic one-anecdote-after-another nature of the film doesn’t help it feel more coherent.  This being said, I’ll note that I saw a French-language dub of the American version of the film (“Pirate Radio”), which reportedly runs twenty minutes shorter than the original British version – I’m not sure that more material would help the film (which already feels sprawling), but it does feel as if something is missing.  Still, The Boat the Rocked is more than worth a look, especially if you’re in the mood for a music-heavy comedy. 

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