The Boat That Rocked (2009)

The Boat That Rocked is the new movie by Richard Curtis, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Norrington Jack Davenport and Tom Sturridge.

Plot:
Carl (Tom Sturridge) is sent to his godfather’s Quentin (Bill Nighy) boat because he messed up in school and his mother thought that it would be a good idea to have him live with some men. Unfortunately, Quentin’s ship is a pirate radio station, inhabited by the eccentric radio DJs. At the same time, Minister Dormandy (Kenneth Brannagh) tries to shut down the radio piracy, with the help of his assistant Twatt (Jack Davenport).

While the movie has a wonderful soundtrack and a good cast, the rest was unfortunately highly offensive to me as a woman and as a thinking human being. Most of the jokes were, as we say in German, “unter jeder Sau” (which might be translated to “beneath every sow” and means abysmal). At one point, I was about to walk out of the theatre and I have never done that before. If you wanna know why, read on. If you don’t want to read me rant again, you better skip the rest of the post.

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[SPOILERY SPOILERS]

Okay, as long as I can control myself, the good things: The soundtrack, as I said, is very good – a lot of The Kinks (and you can never go wrong with some kinky goodness) and a bit of a best of the 60s (even though some of the songs hadn’t been released yet at the time the movie’s playing, but hey, that’s nitpicking and shall be forgiven).

The cast was great, I laughed my ass off anytime Dormandy and Twatt were on screen, and the climb-off between The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Gavin (Rhys Ifans) was hilarious. I loved Emma Thompson‘s cameo.

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BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT!

This movie was so incredibly sexist, it’s unbelievable. We can say that the Sixties were sexist and that it was only a realistic representation of the time. But I can portray sexism without being sexist myself. [Which is something that Mad Men does well, at least in the first three episodes, I haven’t seen more yet.] The only woman to get some kind of character was Emma Thompson’s Charlotte and she got, what, 3 minutes screen time? All the other women were pussies on legs, treacherous beings who will sleep with anybody if you don’t watch their every move and with no personality whatsoever. Or they got a personality like the cook. She was a lesbian and that’s all she ever got as an introduction. As if all lesbians are alike and just by saying that somebody is a lesbian, I describe her character down to the last bit.

On the other side were the men, who were all lecherous and disgusting or virgins. And a man being a virgin is of course the most ridiculous thing ever. Everybody knows that men have to lose their virginity when they’re twelve years old or else they can never be men, but will remain boys forever (just take a look at Judd Apatow movies to see that sex doesn’t change the maturity of men in the least bit).

So, when Carl comes on the boat and discloses that after spending basically his entire life in an all-boys-school, he’s still a virgin at 19, measures have to be taken. And what are these measures?

Right, rape‘s the solution.

Every two weeks, women are allowed on board the ship (excepting of course the cook, but she’s a lesbian, so she’s not a woman). Such a weekend is coming up and Dave (Nick Frost) tells Carl that he’s decided that Carl might sleep with Dave’s girlfriend Desiree to get rid of his shaming status as a virgin. Except only Desiree doesn’t know anything about this, so they have to be cunning.
Dave lets Carl into his room, where Carl hides in the bathroom. Then Desiree comes into the room and Dave insists on turning off all the lights. He leaves her on the bed in the dark and excuses himself to go to the bathroom. After some hilarious conversation like “Are you sure she won’t notice that it’s not you fucking her, because you are so much fatter than I am?”. Carl leaves the bathroom naked to do the deed – when Desiree turns on the light, screams and Carl leaves, muttering that he’s in the wrong room.

That scene was the point where I considered leaving (or puking). If I hadn’t been sitting in the middle of a rather full row, I would have done so. If Carl had so much as kissed Desiree, I wouldn’t have minded climbing over the backs of 50 people to get out of there.

Seriously, you’ve got two men cold-bloodedly planning a rape (with the knowledge of other people) and it’s. fucking. played. for. laughs.

And don’t give me the “it’s not rape”-shtick*. Just because she consented to have sex with Dave, does NOT mean that she consented to sleep with every guy who happens to come her way. Her screaming when she sees Carl instead of Dave should be pointer enough for that.

What a sickening attitude by Dave to “give away” his girlfriend like that – as if she really was his property!

[We don’t see Desiree after that anymore, if I’m not mistaken, and I can only hope that offscreen she kicked Dave in the balls and left him.]

Don’t you dare tell me that I should get a sense of humour*. Rape isn’t funny, but more often than not it’s portrayed that way. Rape isn’t sexy, but more often than not it’s portrayed that way.

With all the discussion about the date rape in Observe and Report (which is by far not the first rape scene to be played for laughs or for sexiness), one shouldn’t be surprised about these kind of things, but one frequently is. And not surprised in the good “look, I bought you a present!” way. More surprised in the “a guy jumped round the corner, knocked me on the head from behind me and stole my wallet” way.

But the most disturbing thing is that people don’t recognise it as what it is. My sister saw the movie – she’s intelligent, educated and feminist, even if not as outspoken about it as I am – and I needed to explain to her why this was a rape scene. And that is plain scary.

This scene destroyed the whole movie for me – even the scenes I would have otherwise liked (and we’re talking few and in-between scenes). But take out this scene (and you easily could have, it’s not that it’s essential to the plot) and you’re still left with sexist drivel.

I was disgusted and disappointed. I guess that much is clear from this review.

*I’m pretty sure that my regular readers won’t do that. Just a pointer for the random commenters I might get.

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5 thoughts on “The Boat That Rocked (2009)

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  2. Thanks for this review. I hated the movie, too… I sat through the attempted rape scene but left about 30 minutes later because I couldn’t stand it.

    It got to the point where I wanted one of the girls (the niece) to grab a gun and start shooting everyone on the boat. It was a terrible plot & script, especially for the female characters. I probably would have watched the rest of the movie if it had one strong female character in it who wasn’t just there for sex. But it didn’t, all the main characters were male, and all the female characters were exclusively portrayed as sex objects. The lesbian cook on board the boat was only important as an object of sexist jokes (ie. being slapped on the bum by one of the men & told by him that sex with him would ‘turn her straight’).

    The script writers could have given the ‘lesbian cook’ a much bigger role in the film, but they didn’t. Far from just portraying 60’s sexism the film itself was sexist – and it did not need to be. Absence of a well-developed female character, for me, is far worse than all the other sexist things in the film.

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