Movie Review: ‘The Boat That Rocked’ (aka “Pirate Radio”)

Richard Curtis is one of the most successful British filmmakers of all time. His films, particularly “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994) and “Love Actually” (2003) remain hugely popular twenty years after their release.
With a few exceptions (2005’s The Girl in the Cafe, 1997’s Mr. Bean) THE HOBBLEDEHOY seriously loathe Curtis’ insincere dreck, and this is why finding this scathing review of Curtis’ 2009 “The Boat That Rocked” was a gift from the Gods of Criticism. Bless you, reviewer Colin Edwards.
Read on! Rock on!

By Colin Edwards

Richard Curtis’ abomination ‘The Boat That Rocked’ or ‘Pirate Radio’ (2009) tells the story of… actually that’s the thing — it doesn’t tell a story. Of any kind. Except from maybe that of how far Curtis’ talents have atrophied and completely turned in on themselves over the years. This is, by far, the worst movie I’ve seen in 2019.

Set in 1966 it ostensibly concerns the pirate radio era of Britain in the sixties but seems more focused on how a teenager called Carl can lose his virginity even if it means resorting to sexual abuse. And that’s it. Seriously, there is NOTHING more to this movie than that; it’s simply two hours of ersatz nostalgia and, as is par for the course with Curtis’ movies, shockingly retrograde and distasteful views on sex and “love”. Sure, there’s some badly thought out and underdeveloped stuff about Kenneth Branagh’s nasty, stuffy Government minister wanting to close the pirate station down (you can tell he’s a nasty, stuffy Government minister because he only listens to classical music) as well as the arrival of a rival DJ (Rhys Ifans) that threatens to introduce some drama or even some fucking actual narrative to the movie, but nothing comes of any of these whatsoever leaving the story, literally, adrift at sea.

Pirate Radio

Is that the “joke”? Am I meant to be laughing now? Christ

The only aspect of the film more lacking, more lazy, than the plotting is the humour. This is a movie for people that find the names Bob or Twatt (of course, it’s another nasty civil servant called that) funny because, you know, Curtis has never relied on that particular crutch before. I also wish some would tell Richard Curtis that there is nothing, nor ever has been, remotely funny about Bill Nighy dancing, something that seems to be crowbarred into one of his movies whenever possible. Is it because he’s middle-aged and somewhat posh so the idea of him dancing is inherently hilarious? That’s a pinnacle of British comedy? Is that the “joke”? Am I meant to be laughing now? Christ.

Oh, and it’s not just Bill Nighy that’s dancing as the movie is constantly inter-cut with shots of the “average” person –nurses, grocers, mothers — immediately dropping what they should be legally doing to dance on down to the music. It is grating and infuriating only five minutes in but after two hours of it starts to induce murderous rage like a sort of choreography version of Chinese water-torture. What kind of fantasy world does Curtis live in anyway where his characters always do this? Then again I guess you’d be permanently dancing too if you’d pulled off the comedy crime of the century of getting paid vast sums of money for simply churning out unwatchable shit like Curtis has.

And don’t even get me started on the tone of the film which aims for the sex, drugs and rock and roll hedonism of the 60s but actually comes across more like an appalling 70s school-disco DJ’d by a serial sex-offender eying up the kids. Plus, the fact that Curtis is oddly puritanical about it all oddly compounds matters, almost as though he was too self-aware that he was also the guy who wrote ‘Four Weddings’ whilst writing the script so knew he couldn’t go too far, which just compounds the insincerity and the other issues inherent here; this is not a move to trust. This is a cynically calculated film which is utterly ironic as there is zero intelligence functioning here in the slightest.

The only aspect of the movie worse than Curtis’ writing is his directing which is so awful I genuinely can’t think of a way to describe how appalling it is. “Terrible”? Yeah, I guess that’ll do and is succinct enough. The directing is terrible and is enough to make you sea-sick with choices that are baffling in their idiocy and lack of aesthetic result or purpose. Hopefully it might be saved by a decent editor… oh no, the editing’s fucking awful as well and is simply an aleatorical process. Did the editor use John Cage’s dice system of chance to piece the images in this movie together because it sure looks like it? I don’t think a single shot related to any of the ones that followed or preceded it. It’s a mess.

The music choices are so on-the-nose you could wear them as a pince-nez and despite the strenuous nostalgic reaching back for the 60s that’s so graceless you feel the movie’s going to pull a hernia, it feels way more like the spirit of the 90s when Brit-pop and TFI Friday butt-fucked the zombie corpse of the Summer of Love back into the grave. Maybe Curtis isn’t nostalgic for the sixties but actually for the nineties, the period when people thought he had talent and seemed to look forward to one of his film being released?

The film ends on a decidedly creepy note that’s sort of a cross between ‘Titanic’ and ‘Confessions of A Window Cleaner’ except less fun and more tragic as we are bombarded with even more shots of people dancing in a trance of forced joviality and it is scary as hell as this movie has the cold, insincere smirk of a psychopath that could turn on us if we refused to join in the charade. There is nothing genuinely human here at all.

Source: ‘The Boat That Rocked’ or — Motion (picture) Sickness?