Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia is a hodgepodge of a film that mixes rock music, teenage angst, and gang warfare to create an intriguing, character-driven story of Britain’s “mod” scene of the 1960s. But it’s not the story or plot that makes Quadrophenia memorable, it’s the wonderfully effective musical score by Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, better known as the rock band The Who.
Quadrophenia is the story of Jimmy (Phil Daniels), a “mod” (which is short for “modern”). Like all mods, Jimmy rides around on scooters, hangs out with other mods, pops pills, causes mischief, dresses smartly, and dances awkwardly. Jimmy is aggressively everything that his parents are not, which naturally causes rifts between him and the adults. The real focus of Quadrophenia, though, is Jimmy’s search for love and, more importantly, identity.
Unlike The Who’s other album-turned-film, Tommy (1975), Quadrophenia is not a traditional rock opera: none of the dialogue is told through music. Instead, the music offers a kind of commentary on what is happening on-screen. There are moments in the music that are more directly related to what is happening to the characters than others, but everything is tied into the same theme of finding one’s identity. Not only is the music memorable in a storytelling sense, but it’s also just kick-ass rock music from The Who, which makes it a blast to listen to.
At two hours in length, Quadrophenia has moments that seem a bit stretched. For example, there are scenes where Jimmy is shown walking about the beach, or sitting in sadness, and so on, that would have had the same effect on the audience if they were shown for half the length. This slows down the pacing too much, and at times, the film feels like it’s dragging. If Quadrophenia were cut down another 15-20 minutes, it would clip along excellently, which would play well thematically with the rest of the movie.
What Roddam nails right out of the gate is Quadrophenia’s mood. If you don’t enjoy the first ten minutes of the film, turn it off. It starts high – fun, free – and begins taking the downward spiral that Jimmy’s adolescence takes, ending on a much darker, adult note. What remains a constant, though, through every frame, is the energy of youth, which is quite a fantastic feat by Roddam.
Even though many of my peers will have little to no knowledge of the mods of the 1960s, Roddam’s film is strong enough that it really doesn’t matter. This is a story of youth, which every human can connect with, regardless of race, culture, or sex. Quadrophenia isn’t a perfect film, but it is a lot of fun, and screams of a time that I will never truly know: 1960s Britain. Though a love story ties the beginning to the end, Quadrophenia is very much a movie about identity; about a young man moving from adolescence into adulthood, no matter how hard he tries to fight it. The rock score by The Who is not only icing on the cake, but also a necessary storytelling technique that drives the movie forward. Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia is arguably as effective today as it was back in 1979, and is definitely recommended.
This review originally appeared on Inside Pulse Movies in 2012.