Four stars. Not rated, with profanity, sensuality and plenty of recreational drug use
By Derrick Bang
Director Mat Whitecross’ exhilarating indie, released three years ago but only now making its way on our side of the Atlantic, is a valentine to music fans of all ages, but particularly for those of us who — as teenagers — fell madly, passionately and hopelessly in love with One Special Album that ruled our lives, awake or asleep.
It became a personal soundtrack to eating, studying and falling in love: the songs that we discussed and dissected endlessly and enthusiastically to like-minded friends.
Whitecross and scripter Chris Coghill haven’t merely depicted the obsessive zeal of such devotion; their film is constructed with an inventive, vibrant bounce that spills youthful bliss from every frame. In that context, Spike Island belongs in the company of like-minded, music-laden predecessors such as The Commitments, That Thing You Do and, more recently, Begin Again.
All that said, American viewers are warned to anticipate accents so thick that subtitles wouldn’t have been amiss. I know, intellectually, that all these characters are speaking English in this British production, but the working-class Manchester accent is thick enough to give the most impenetrable Irish brogue a run for its money.
Which is to say, much as I enjoyed this first exposure, the eventual home-viewing experience will be even more satisfying, when I can turn on the DVD’s closed captions.
Coghill’s story, set in Manchester during the spring of 1990, follows five rough ’n’ tumble teenage lads who — like many of their fellow “Madchesterians” — have succumbed to the eponymous debut album by The Stone Roses, released the summer before and still ruling the charts. Beloved in great part because the band members were Manchester natives themselves, the album touched a nerve in rock and punk fans already marginalized by recession, mass unemployment, class wars and the recent poll tax riots.
Rock-inflected movements come in many sizes. Although lacking the massive historical shift signaled by the 1960s British invasion, The Stone Roses definitely fueled a Manchester-based mini-revolution that brought a shimmering, jangling illusion of hope to a subset of Briton that felt helpless and beaten down.
Mind you, at first blush this story’s young heroes — Gary “Tits” Titchfield (Elliot Tittensor), Darren “Dodge” Howard (Nico Mirallegro), Chris “Zippy” Weeks (Jordan Murphy), “Little Gaz” Duffy (Adam Long) and “Penfold” Andrew Peach (Oliver Heald) — seem little more than hooligans. They’re introduced while laying waste to their school with multiple cans of paint: a shrill anarchic act inspired by The Stone Roses themselves. (Check the LP cover of the aforementioned album.)