Before the division, Terry Hooley (Richard Dormer) was a popular man. But then his native Belfast bitterly split along sectarian lines, leaving the gregarious but staunchly apolitical Hooley to his own devices. He’s DJing to nobody at a sad bar surrounded by barbed wire and run by the baleful Pat (Dylan Moran) when he finds a kindred soul in outsider Ruth (Jodie Whittaker).
Emboldened by the support of Ruth, Dooley then decides on a whim that what his ailing city needs is a record store and he borrows over his head to set up the shop on a street famously known as the most bombed in Europe. Despite its perilous location, Hooley’s boundless enthusiasm for the soothing power of music proves infectious and he watches in delight as it becomes a real cultural hub, quickly expanding into a record label as the city’s burgeoning punk scene sparks into life.
It’s hard to think of another film which captures the fervour of discovery of music as thrillingly as Good Vibrations. As played by Dorman, Dooley is a genuinely fascinating character, flawed but endearingly quixotic. His faith in the music is complete, and completely moving. “These punks aren’t the problem with Belfast,” he enthuses to a news crew at one point “They’re the solution!”
After signing proto-punk band Rudi (later Rudi and the Outcasts) to his hastily formed label, he stumbles upon gold when Derry upstarts The Undertones push their demo on him. Initially reluctant to get involved with the brash youngsters, he has his mind changed for him when he hears ‘Teenage Kicks’, a song to die for. His championing of the song leads to airplay on John Peel, who famously loved the single so much he took the unprecedented step of playing it twice in a row.
Despite the stunning cultural impact of both the Good Vibrations label and store, Hooley’s complete gormlessness as a businessman means his beloved pet project is forever on shaky ground. Adding to his stress are (largely self-induced) marital woes and growing antipathy from local hoodlums to the store.
If there’s a downside to Good Vibrations it the story’s stubborn refusal to organise itself into anything resembling a neat three-act structure. The final act may neither be thrilling nor as satisfying as the fist-pumping material that preceded it, but it’s ultimately hard not to be stirred by the fire and life on display here and won over by this scrappily loveable ode to the energy and abandon of punk rock.