Mat Whitecross’ follow-up to his Ian Dury biopic, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll , shares more than a name with the gig that Noel Gallagher called both “shit” and “fantastic”.
For pop mythologists, The Stone Roses’ 1990 Spike Island show defined a generation, hoisting 27,000 fans’ spirits above Tory Britain’s mire. For others, it might have been better if the crap sound weren’t so prey to each stray wind.
Whitecross and writer Chris Coghill’s serio-comic coming-of-ager contains youth-pic clichés and plotting choppier than the Roses’ volume, but it also cannily probes that myth/reality gulf and, crucially, shows how Spike Island was about the kids (man) rather than the concert.
The need to snag Spike Island tickets is just one, albeit central, Detroit Rock City -ish issue in the lives of teen tearaways Tits (Elliott Tittensor), his bezzy mate Dodge (Nico Mirallegro) and their Roses-ish band, Shadow Caster.
Other issues woven in include bad dads, dying dads, sibling betrayal, band ructions and love tussles over Roses fan Sally (Emilia Clarke), with Tits’ formative experiences (love, tragedy, faith in idols dented) taking the strain.
And ‘strain’ is the word.
The plot frays long before the boys take a wrong turn going to Spike Island, a detour that saddles the film with several empty minutes where a sense of fumbled focus settles in.
After a likeably buzzy opening, the delay exposes the film’s goofier gambits, like a reliance on slo-mo to suggest youth’s halcyon highs: we notice the reference to a Roses video, yes, but it still looks cheesy.
The segues from dialogue to songs clunk too, so it’s a relief those songs are good.
In the year of the Roses’ rapturously received reunion tour, it’s their music that revives our good will - and Whitecross knows it.
With stylised flourishes including gig countdowns scrawled on registration plates and cooling towers, his direction highlights how music can transform the landscapes of lives, just as the Spike Island gathering made a grim industrial site look briefly blissful.
The cast add further uplift. Clarke and Tittensor endear during a tingly clinch set to a jubilant ‘I Am The Resurrection’, though it’s Lesley Manville, as Tits’ mum, who steals the film with a song in a pub during a moving climax.
The plot has left the rails by then, but Spike Island still manages to remind us that the potency of music shared transcends myth-making in moments like these.
Fluffed notes, bit messy, but scattered with heart, highs and songs to hum. Like the Roses’ career, Whitecross’s baggy love-in is saggy but also energised and endearing.