It’s been something of a musician/band overload at the multiplexes in the last year or two that shows no signs of slowing down. Last year, Rami Malek and Bohemian Rhapsody stormed to Oscar glory (somewhat surprisingly, it must be said), we have already been blasted up into the stratosphere this year with Taron Edgerton’s superb portrayal of Elton John in Rocketman, and there was Richard Curtis and Danny Boyle’s Yesterday, which while not telling the story of the band, celebrated the musical legacy of The Beatles.
So who’s next on the hit list? The Boss himself, of course. Yes, Bruce Springsteen, songwriter supreme has been given the big-screen treatment but not at all in the ways you may expect. This is no biopic: based on the real life experiences and book by Sarfraz Mansoor, this is in some ways most similar to Yesterday, in that Gurinder Chadha’s film both celebrates and rejoices in the inspiration of the great man on an unlucky time and place: Luton in the 1980’s. A time of social, economical and political unrest across the country (sounds familiar), the National Front’s far-right fascism was rife, no more so than in Luton, and the town’s Indian and Pakistani communities were targeted including Javed (the superb Viveik Kalra) and his family who came to the UK for a better life.
Shy and introverted, Javed knows the importance of family and its traditions and for most of his teen years he has been trying to become a writer but has been shackled by his father’s expectations of him and his contributions. It’s then that Springsteen enters his life and his world changes: buoyed by a new found confidence and energy, Javed’s course changes for ever.
Even discounting the music and lyrics, the film does a brilliant job of balancing those uplifting moments with those darker ones, such was the unrest and struggles for such communities but Chadha, as she always has a knack for, presents such grotesque parts of humanity alongside those that have the power to uplift, to transcend and through Springsteen’s music, lyrics and power she is able to mould a film that’s both topical and nostalgic, funny yet heartfelt. If it changes your mind about something, all the better; if it doesn’t, hopefully it will make you take notice at the very least.
Those hoping for Blinded by the Light to be more of a musical may well turn away in disappointment but there’s plenty to keep you entertained here through The Boss’s music – but it’s the messages and the feelings that said music invokes and inspires in us that’s the real reason the film works so wonderfully. In another director’s hands, this could have been an overly saccharine film but in Chadha’s it’s a soaring, brilliant success.