Love, or something like it, is in the air. And British director Richard Curtis seems to want us all to know about it. His penchant for films featuring multiple story-lines and a vast array of characters is well documented, especially with the two films featured today. So with the release this week of Pirate Radio across United States cinema screens, we thought we’d put Curtis’s latest up against one of his classics, Love Actually.
Largely based on fictitious facts (i.e. movie “facts”), Pirate Radio (otherwise known as The Boat That Rocked outside of the USA) puts us in the middle of the North Sea, off the coast of England, as a boat holding various radio DJ’s broadcast their illegal signal into mainland England to circumvent draconian broadcasting laws preventing them from otherwise playing the newfangled music known as “rock ‘n’ roll.”
The Defending Champion
Largely based on factual fiction, Love Actually (otherwise known by my wife as “the best movie ever made!”) puts us in a variety of scenarios across London, from a porn film shoot, to the Prime Minister’s office, and even to a funeral set to the music of the Bay City Rollers: using a veritable multitude of characters, Love Actually purports to examine just what is Love, actually, and give us several answers.
I unashamedly enjoy Love Actually, simply for the enormously sweet nature of the film. I also enjoyed Pirate Radio when I had a chance to see it earlier this year (living outside of the USA sometimes has it’s advantages), if for slightly different reasons. Pirate Radio manages to avoid the often overly sentimental saccharine tone employed by director Richard Curtis on Love Actually, replaced instead by a sentimental and saccharine love affair with 60’s rock and roll. Love Actually is a film about love, Pirate Radio is a film about loving music, which are two completely different things, according to Curtis.
Each film has its weakness, predominantly Curtis’s ability to always have one too many characters and plot-lines bubbling away at any moment, which critically undermines the tolerance of either film. Yet the strengths of both Love Actually and Pirate Radio can be seen blatantly up on screen: Richard Curtis loves the idea of love, and whether it’s loving a person or a band, or a book or a car, love is love. Even the most stubborn obstacles can be overcome with love. As noted, Pirate Radio is factually inaccurate in its portrayal of the events it shows, which can work to its detriment, or, like U571, in its favor. It’s a charming look back to a time before iPods, computers and Facebook, when music was sung for the craft and not always for the commercial gain. Love Actually is just a story so unless you’re a historian, this cuts in favor of neither film.
The problem with Pirate Radio isn’t truth, it’s pace. It never really gets going,since the disparate characters all compete for screen time in a film blessed with an abundance of people and stories. Curtis hasn’t managed to wrangle them all into place properly, though, and the film lacks real warmth and depth. It’s a damn good attempt, but falls short. I’ll admit to a bias towards Love Actually simply because we’ve all had more time to grow to love it, yet overriding all that is a sense that Love Actually is a whole lot more re-watchable than Pirate Radio. Pirate Radio is a lot less corny than Love Actually, yet manages to somehow be a lot less, I don’t know, fun, at the same time. Pirate Radio does have the vibe of an Almost Famous about it, that much is certain, as well as a touch of Pump Up The Volume and even some High Fidelity, but never manages to reach the lofty heights of any of it’s similarly themed brethren. Purely from a level of cinematic joy, Love Actually triumphs here today.