A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that, though Pirate Radio is about rebellion of every stripe, it's ultimately a good-natured film filled with good-hearted characters who will appeal to mature teens (as well as parents who cherish rock 'n' roll). The movie's events are seen through the eyes of a teenager who spends a lot of time with several free-spirited 1960s DJs ... and pursues losing his virginity in the process. It's all part of them urging him to "loosen up" and "have fun" -- which translates to plenty of rude, dangerous, and anti-authoritarian behavior, sex and sex talk, drinking, and other illicit activities, so be ready to talk to your teens about the real-life consequences of what they're seeing on screen. It's important to note that the only real female character in the movie is a lesbian (a fact that's repeated again and again, mostly with comedic intent).
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
It's 1966, and rock 'n' roll is banned in England -- but it's still legal to broadcast from offshore. Young Carl (Tom Sturridge) arrives on board the Radio Rock, an old fishing boat that's been converted to a floating radio station. There he witnesses a series of vignettes about an ensemble of misfit characters, including his godfather/the boat's captain, Quentin (Bill Nighy), and a ragtag crew of DJs that includes the boisterous Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), tubby Dave (Nick Frost), and seductive Gavin (Rhys Ifans). The Count and Gavin strike up a rivalry, romances come and go, and there's lots of general bickering and ribbing. Meanwhile, on dry land, menacing government minister Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) will stop at nothing to shut them down.
Is it any good?
Pirate Radio sometimes feels more like an extended BBC comedy sketch than a film. Written and directed by Richard Curtis (Love Actually), the movie was trimmed by 20 minutes after its release in England, where critics complained of excessive length (and where the film was titled The Boat That Rocked); now the movie feels jaunty and lightweight -- though perhaps a bit too weightless. Too many characters with too little screen time add up to not much depth for anyone; the character arcs are fairly simple and predictable overall, with little emotional weight (centerpiece character Carl is the weakest of all).
But the film's good-natured rebellion and genuine enthusiasm for the power of rock 'n' roll can be infectious and enjoyable. Moreover, talented actors and comedians like Hoffman, Nighy, Frost, and Branagh manage to find brilliantly humorous moments within their dialogue, generating plenty of laughs.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the English government wanted to ban rock 'n' roll in the 1960s. Were they acting in the public good by doing this?
The DJs are combating authority, but what justifies their iffy behavior in doing so? (This story is a story told with hindsight, so it's easy to see who was right and who was wrong in the end, but it may be tricky to apply this lesson to other scenarios.)
Could the female characters in the film have been stronger?
- In theaters: November 13, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: April 13, 2010
- Cast: Nick Frost, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Ifans
- Director: Richard Curtis
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 115 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language, and some sexual content including brief nudity
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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