Good Vibrations tells the true story of Terri Hooley (Richard Dormer), a Belfast record shop owner whose refusal to back down or be intimidated, led to him having a lasting impact on the city’s music scene.
On the surface, it seems that Good Vibrations is the story of music and bringing it to the people, which it is, but the film is also an examination of a person who refused to take sides in a tumultuous period of Northern Ireland’s history, while almost single-handedly bringing the world Teenage Kicks by The Undertones.
Richard Dormer captures the essence of a man who has no time for anything but music. Dormer is warm and endearing, but it is also easy for the audience to understand why those around him began to lose patience. The rest of the cast revolve around this man, and it is clear that he is charismatic, if tunnel-visioned.
The politics of the time are always in the background of the film – in fact, there is a genius scene where Terri gives records to decision makers on both sides of the divide, in return for the store being left alone – but since our hero is allowed to be indifferent to tensions, so are the audience, although this does not mean the issues are ignored; instead the film is given a flavour of the environment, without it ever taking over the narrative. Cleverly done.
Hooley is not painted as a perfect character; instead he comes across as the everyman, someone who the audience can relate to, and this is what makes the film work so well. There is plenty in Glenn Patterson and Colin Carberry’s screenplay that is comic, but this is balanced so well with the tragic that it makes the film feel real and relatable. As well as this, Terri’s story arc is not that of a man who brought peace to Northern Ireland or anything as large, but in going on the journey with him as he tries to make a business out of what he loves, the audience feels the triumphs and tragedies along with him. Directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn have brought the best out of their actors and made them the heart of the story; the only place where the film stumbles is in a slight lack of focus in terms of the bands, and some muddled pacing.
Good Vibrations is a feel good story based on truth. Richard Dormer shines as the lead character, and the music being so iconic and fun certainly helps the film along. It is rare to find a film about Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s that is joyous, but Good Vibrations is certainly it.