Richard Curtis is the master of the feel-good movie. The writer-director behind Love Actually is adept at crafting warm, sentimental stories with characters you actually like and want to see achieve happiness. He can turn what would be predictable schmaltz in the hands of others into something pleasant, comfortable and welcome.
Curtis’ second directorial effort, Pirate Radio, strays from his romantic-comedy wheelhouse to dabble in historical dramedy, but it has the same infectious sweetness as his other films. It’s a love letter to British rock radio of the 1960s, stations that operated from boats anchored in international waters because the British government wouldn’t play rock music on its official broadcast outlets. Curtis crafts a fictional station, Radio Rock, that in 1966 is the most popular radio station in the U.K., staffed by a motley band of rock ’n’ roll rebels.
Pirate Radio has a point-of-view character in teenage Carl (Sturridge), whose godfather (Nighy) runs Radio Rock, and whose mother banishes him to the boat after he’s expelled from school. Carl gets an education in debauchery from the hedonistic DJs (played by the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Shaun of the Dead’s Nick Frost and Flight of the Conchords’ Rhys Darby), and learns a bit about love and a bit about standing up for what you believe in, but the movie isn’t all that concerned with life lessons or character growth. There’s also a dour government official (Kenneth Branagh, practically frothing at the mouth) on a crusade to shut down the pirate-radio ships, but the movie isn’t interested in some slobs-vs.-snobs plot, either.
Mostly Curtis just has fun hanging out with these crazy dudes he’s cooked up from 1960s archetypes, and while Pirate Radio is entirely inconsequential, the filmmaker’s sense of glee over celebrating the music and culture that clearly had a huge influence on him is hard not to share. The movie is packed with well-chosen classic rock, the top-notch cast makes the most of the relatively one-dimensional characters, and you’ll probably leave with a smile on your face, even if you’ve forgotten everything except that nice feeling by the next day.