- Film & TV
- 09 Aug 19
Earnest Springsteen-scored film celebrates art that makes misfits feel understood.
Directed by Gurinder Chadha. Starring Viveik Kalra, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Kulvinder Ghir, Nell Williams, Aaron Phagura. 114 mins.
Neo-Nazis storm the streets. Unemployment is on the rise. Extreme political leaders are sowing division. Students divide their time between activism and the escapism of irony-laden pop culture.
That's the beauty of Gurinder Chadha's new film. It takes place in 1980s Luton, but it could be now, and it could be anywhere. And meek, insecure Javed (newcomer Viveik Kalra) could be any teenager who feels misunderstood, seeking solace in his passions - in this case, the escapist tunes of Bruce Springsteen.
It's a familiar framework for Chadha, who directed 2002's glorious Bend It Like Beckham, but her own nuanced sensibilities and the source material of Sarfaraz Manzoor's memoir imbue the film with wonderful, knotty specificity. The son of Pakistani immigrants, Javed is torn between British norms and his parents' (initially broadly drawn) traditional sensibilities - but faced with increasing racism and unemployment, his parents are struggling too. Like Javed, they once dreamed of escaping. But what does it mean to move in search of a better life, and fail?
As Javed blares 'Dancing In The Dark' and 'The Promised Land' for the first time, the lyrics dance around him as he runs through a storm, literally blown away by a new sense of possibility. These unapologetically earnest mini-music videos pepper the film, as Springsteen's music inspires Javed to write, to ask out the girl he likes, and to believe that something's happening somewhere.
The effectiveness of these sequences varies, sometimes capturing the catharsis of a teenager finally feeling understood, sometimes feeling clumsy and mawkish. Javed mistakes imitating Springsteen as expressing himself, but the film occasionally makes the same mistake, over-relying on The Boss' lyrics to convey profundity instead of its own script. This is eventually salvaged as the nature of family, community and individuality is warmly addressed.
As for Viveik Kalra's career, this film is a spark that could start a fire.
IN CINEMAS NOW 3/5