Starring Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Sting
Scott’s Review #1,269
Reviewed June 23, 2022
Fans of the British rock band, The Who, will perhaps be mystified by the film Quadrophenia (1979). More specifically, The Who and fans of the exceptional oddity-filled musical film Tommy (1975) will be surprised and somewhat disappointed that Quadrophenia is not patterned after Tommy.
I was uneasy when I realized that very few of the songs from the groundbreaking album of the same name would not be incorporated and that the band themselves would not be appearing.
But that apprehension was short-lived.
Instead, Quadrophenia the film quickly grasped me for the storyline alone and makes up for the lack of music with a gripping tale of teenage angst and conflict amid the streets of London.
Reportedly, the story is at least somewhat derived from the life of Who member Pete Townshend and the concept behind Quadrophenia in the album is the same in the film.
To classify Quadrophenia as a musical or musical drama (I decided to do both) is most generous because that only enhances the fact that it almost isn’t either one. But since it is based on the album and was co-written by Townsend, I decided to throw caution to the wind.
An insecure and angry London youth, Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels) escapes the dullness of his mailroom job and the chilliness of London and joins the Mods, a sharply dressed gang constantly feuding with their rivals, the Rockers.
When the Mods and Rockers clash in the coastal town of Brighton, England, it leads to both trouble and an encounter with the lovely Steph (Leslie Ash) whom Jimmy has become smitten with over encounters at the grocery store where she works.
Returning to London and his life of drudgery, Jimmy, who aspires to be like handsome and charismatic Mod leader Ace Face (Sting), becomes even more disillusioned and longs to return to Brighton.
Quadrophenia the film is exceptional because it gets the mood of the lead character right and the audience will undoubtedly respond in turn. He feels that his life is going nowhere and most people can relate in some way to being stuck in first gear or reverse and unable to get out of the mud.
In Jimmy’s mind, his parents are assholes and the girl he longs for is out of his league and therefore out of reach. It’s typical adolescence 101. All he needs are the pimples and a bad hairstyle and he encompasses what it feels like to be a teenager.
This may sound comical but anyone remembering youth will undoubtedly find a glimmer of pain and panic.
Filmmaker, Franc Roddam gets it right.
The best part of the film occurs in the final fifteen minutes when finally and blessedly superior songs by The Who commence, most notably the astounding Love, Reign O’er Me.
In addition to the brilliance of the actual song is the way it’s included. As the camera provides a birds-eye view of the stunning cliffs as Jimmy rides recklessly on his scooter it’s a perilous scene with hints of danger.
Will he crash and burn?
Finally, the scooter is seen crashing over the cliff-top, which is where the film begins with Jimmy walking back against a sunset backdrop. It’s unclear what happens to Jimmy and interpretation can be used.
It raised Quadrophenia from a very good film to an exceptional one.
Another treasured Who song, The Real Me, is included early on amongst the title credits. Other songs appear but are either shortened and/or different versions of what’s expected.
Sometimes fun and comic, other times showing the ugliness of gloomy London and the pains of growing up, Quadrophenia (1979) excels at reminding its audience what it’s like to be restless and unhappy.
Life usually changes for the better but the film is an important reminder of feelings at that age.