This review contains the same health warning as the one I wrote, in full fan mode, of the book written by Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run: you’ll probably enjoy this film a lot more if you are a Springsteen fan. I’ll pass on the “who isn’t ?” question. You are or you’re not, very much a pregnant or not type of question. (You’re getting my theory on this anyway: if you’ve attended a Springsteen gig, non-E-street band period included, and come away from it impressed/ecstatic/uplifted/awed/blown away, you join the legions of adoring fans. If you come away with a “meh” then you’re weird, it’s that simple). However, the film really does stand on its own, honest.
Meet Javed and his family who live in Luton. The year is 1987, things are pretty tough for the family generally. And things are tough for Javed. At the start of the film (well, after the opening credits), he is sixteen and about to enter sixth form college, intent on pursuing his dream of becoming a writer. A student there introduces him to Bruce Springsteen by slipping him two cassettes : Born in the USA and Darkness on the Edge of Town (these are two of the many HUGE albums for the non-afficionados out there). I’ll stop right there plot-wise. I’m pretty sure the trailer gives more spoilers than these few words but you can go and see the film for the rest of this sweet story.
My other half and I went went to see Blinded by the Light at a cinema (yay, proper film watching, it only happens once in a blue moon…) and our heartstrings were well and truly tugged. His, because in 1987, he was exactly the same age as the protagonist and lived a few miles away from Luton, mine, because that’s exactly how I (and every other teenager, surely) fell in love with music. More specifically of course I fell heavily for Springsteen’s music and famous lyrics (the intensity of the worship increased sharply after 1992, the year I first saw him and the “other” band in concert). The meaning of life in one amazing track ? Tick. The guy really gets it ? Tick. It’s amazing how this song really talks to little you personally? Tick.
A couple of times, hubby knew what was about to happen, because some of the events of that year left memories, and not only the best ones. There was plenty to be generally nostalgic about however, and for all you Brits who lived in the UK then and are still there now, please realise that nostalgia is magnified one-hundred fold when you’ve left the country many years ago. Those teenage memories of the Thatcher years, the amazing new music, the racist incidents depicted in the film, the fun of being a teenager, at least sometimes, all served back to you in two hours, it’s all a bit … yeah. As for me, I moved to the UK in 1989 for a few years, before that I’d only been to England every year for a month and anyway it was Manchester I went to (the North in that three times repeated of the sign that said “London” one way, “The North” the other way, with “sucks” graffitied after “Luton” in the first shot…) so this was not “my” film quite as much as “his” film.
But actually yes it was, it was very much my film too. The big 80s hits at the start of the film, heavy on synths, are my music, OK, they’re everybody’s music who was 16 then. But as soon as the first Springsteen track came on, it really was my music, my film, OK it’s every fan’s track but you get my point. I know all the lyrics without them needing to be projected all over the set. I, like Jared, quoted lyrics to like-minded friends in lieu of conversation (amazing how long you can keep going when you have a decently sized corpus of songs to draw on). I remember exactly the shock of Bobby Jean resonating with every fibre of my being on the very first listen (later versions are even better than the Born in the USA one by the way.) I was actually going to be somebody’s fondly remembered Bobby Jean, who would be having an amazing life after that guy she’d totally forgotten…(Come to think of it, it’s a good job the boyfriend of the time didn’t quiz me on my favourite track on that album.) I soaked up those amazing lyrics (the French are very scathing about the lack of lyricists in what they call Anglo-Saxon music but those in the know concede that Springsteen is an exception, so I could reassure my French friends that here was a true and worthy member of the auteur-compositeur-interprète tribe). I know that Bruce hasn’t got the answer to anything but I also know he’s fantastic about describing what needs an answer.
I loved practically everything about the film, the actors (and the fun of recognising familiar faces), the nice rhythm of the film, the composite picture of the hardships endured by families like Javed’s. I share my little gripe with a reviewer (who replaced Mark Kermode one day, look it up and if I’ve not managed to check his name out by the time you read this, sorry Mister): it’s true that the fantasy scenes were a teeny bit neither one thing or another. I think you had to either go full La La Land mode or film it “straight”. But hey, it’s a minor gripe. And I LOVED the details. I loved Javed’s mate’s Dad, the Rod Stewart wannabee embarrassing his son, Javed’s love interest’s Dad, dressed and acting like John Cleese in Faulty Towers embarrassing his daughter. I loved the recurring car theme – the joke goes that if Springsteen didn’t drive, half his songs wouldn’t exist (which is a wild exaggeration but yes, the car does have a big part in the iconic Thunder Road ).
And Gurinder, I really really hope that my favourite detail was deliberate. When Javed and the embarrassing Dad number 1 sing Thunder Road together, it’s the Dad who sings “You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright”, a lyric addressed to the Mary of the song, a lyric I’ve never quite forgiven Bruce for… Yeah, I know, nobody’s perfect. You have Javed sweetly picking up the singing a little later, looking soulfully at the girl he’s after, and for that I thank you.
Listening to an interview with Gurinder Chadha about this film was a delight too. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a director who sounded that normal and positive and kind of together.