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P.S.H. I Love You: “Pirate Radio” sinks under its own weight

Pirate Radio

Before he passed away at the age of 46, Philip Seymour Hoffman starred in 52 feature films. Starring roles, character pieces, chameleon work—he left a legacy nearly unmatched in both quality and quantity. Now, with P.S.H. I Love You, Jonah Koslofsky wafts through the cornucopia of the man’s offerings.

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The camera in Pirate Radio won’t stop wobbling – it’s so damn annoying. At first glance, this choice makes sense: most of this rotten film is set on “Radio Rock,” a broadcasting boat sending the greatest hits of the baby boomer era across ’60s British airwaves. Carl (Tom Sturridge) has been sent aboard to live with his godfather (Bill Nighy); he’s inducted into the crew’s debauchery while the posh, no-good government tries to shut down the party. 

But everyone on the boat is having a great time. They’re almost all DJs, led at first by the Count of Cool (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Carl gets to know the sheepish Simon Swaffold (Chris O’Dowd), his dumb roommate Kevin (Tom Brooke), and the promiscuous “Doctor” Dave (Nick Frost). The insubstantial protagonist doesn’t have a job on the boat – or much of a personality – he just hangs out. In the hands of a filmmaker like Richard Linklater, this could’ve been a laidback hang-out movie. 

Instead, the camera is constantly shaking, this unnecessary, bad, “objective” filmmaking just the tip of the crappy iceberg. Even if the ground beneath these characters occasionally shakes, it doesn’t seem like they would notice – maybe the film should simulate the waves a bit before Carl is (immediately) accepted by the group. But why keep us off-balance the entire movie, when everyone on-screen is at ease?  

Pirate Radio

Writer/director Richard Curtis (Love, Actually) has no idea how to make a picture like this entertaining. Even if you can stomach the regularly rape-ey vibe all these dudes adopt whenever there are women around, it’s just not much fun spending time with these characters. Without compelling conflict between the deadheads (not that there needs to be) and limp, cartoonish antagonists, we’re left slogging through a soundtrack of obvious needle-drops, watching a cast that’s far less engaging than they should be. 

Take The Count. Did you like Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous? Great, because he’s given the exact same schtick here, as a prickly, rock-and-roll-loving semi-mentor. But where Bangs felt like a real person (as in much like I’ve met before), nothing about The Count sticks. How long has he been a DJ? Where does his love of pop music come from? What makes him so beloved by his listeners? 

That being said, Hoffman does his best. He gets to pretend to say “fuck” over the radio in a scene that’d be fun if Nighy didn’t have to choke out the line “governments loathe people being free.” The ridiculous bureaucrats (led by Kenneth Branagh, worse than he was in Tenet) eventually do find a way to pull the plug on “Radio Rock,” but the only time it feels like it matters is when we see Hoffman reflect the station’s impending demise. Sitting on the deck, he’s so certain that these were the best years of his life that you almost believe Pirate Radio has emotional stakes. 

Almost. How much can one good performance save a bad movie? Even as Hoffman adds the beginnings of gravitas, this is a sinking ship. Pirate Radio first released in the U.K. as “The Boat that Rocked,” where it flopped so hard that the studio actually cut fifteen minutes of the runtime before sailing it into North American theaters (where it was also quickly rejected).

Obviously, even the more concise version isn’t worth your time, just as it certainly didn’t deserver Hoffman. Imagine spending months working on Synecdoche, New York and then showing up to this set. For one of your days, you have to pretend to climb to the top of a ship’s mast to make a rival DJ look chicken because said rival DJ slept with another DJ’s wife because all the women in this movie are objects. 

P.S.H. probably believed in the enjoyable version of this project. Truth is, making a hang-out movie is tougher than it looks. Then again, any first-year film student could tell you to keep the camera steady. 

Pirate Radio Trailer:

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Jonah Koslofsky

Jonah Koslofsky is a critic and filmmaker living in Chicago. He regularly writes about film, television, and pop culture, with a special interest in David Lynch, the Marvel movies, and using too many em-dashes. On an average day, you might find him in a coffee shop or a comic book store. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook – he's just happy to be here!