Directed By Gurinder Chadha
Starring – Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Hayley Atwell
The Plot – In 1987 during the austere days of Thatcher’s Britain, a teenager (Kalra) learns to live life, understand his family and find his own voice through the music of Bruce Springsteen.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material and adult language including some ethnic slurs.
– Intriguing social commentary. Beyond this being a story about a dreamer, Bruce’s music, and the tie that binds them together, the film has a surprisingly deep amount of absorbing environment for Pakistani citizens living in England during the 80’s. This is at the cusp of a Nazi re-emergence which almost crippled the country whole, and led to a boom in racist rhetoric that challenged what many were viewing as a fresh start. For this family in particular, it leads to tight times for finances, tense conflicts in dynamics from within, and treatment for them by others, which documents racial inequality in a film that is otherwise upbeat. Credit to Chadha for tackling such mature content, and transitioning it smoothly enough to make everything gel with proper context and believability.
– Musical passion. We’ve all had something that inspires us, and speaks volumes to the kinds of tribulations we go through in our daily lives, and it’s the framing device for this excitement that gives the film a relatable quality in its content, serving psychologically as a story for the dreamers in all of us. For Jarev, Bruce Springsteen feels like a spiritual epiphany, and one that brings forth an air of clarity for him not being alone in his troubles. Comparing Bruce to a Pakistani teenage boy isn’t the easiest line to draw, but the film wonderfully articulates the accessibility of a poor boy from Jersey, who just wanted to escape his town of mediocrity for better ideals on the other side of the bridge. It highlights a power that music has in terms of emotional resonance, standing as the brick that holds everything together from crumbling down.
– SPRINGing soundtrack. There’s a fine offering of early Bruce favorites that adorn the collection of tracks heard throughout the film, but what’s more important than that is where they fit in to their real life time-frame. No song included is ever out of place with its 1987 setting, proving once again to “Bohemian Rhapsody” how the most simple things can preserve the strongest integrity for the artist. Surprisingly though, the boss isn’t the only artist featured in a song so deeply rooted in musical mastery. A-Ha, Pet Shop Boys, and even Debbie Gibson formulate nuance within the 80’s new wave bubble of pop, which was everywhere, and work so cohesively with the method of how the story frames them in their particular scenes. Bruce is clearly the artist in charge here, but it’s refreshing when a movie about a particular artist includes familiar faces and sounds from the designated era, giving light to complexity in musical tones, which serve as an audible scrapbook of memories from a past era.
– Borderline musical. The musical genre is grounded in reality here, as the performance scenes not only feel real with how they progress initially, but also immerses itself in the environment, with actors and actresses real voices doing the singing in the fluidity of the scene. Nothing is done in post-production or sound mixing, giving these fantastical sequences a manner of realism that doesn’t require the perfection of a musical to sell its allure. What sells it is their amateur singing styles never overlap the volume of the music itself, nor do they compromise the sizzle of the song. Completing the fun is Bruce lyrics, which come in the form of visual text seen on screen. This not only highlights where the lyrics hit so hard with Jarev’s particular situation, but also gives us the audience a chance at a sing-a-long for those tracks that we fell in love with like our jaded protagonist.
– Complex editing. There’s a music video kind of serenity to what transpires during scenes of musical incorporation, giving us a visual presentation that works beautifully with the pulse of the song. The editing movements themselves move cohesively with the beats of the track, giving us a firework of cuts that influence the firepower of the song without alienating the style of the sequence in an unflattering way. There are also many instances of photograph framing, where as many as four different angles of the same sequence are being presented in the same shot, giving us an abundance to focus on, instead of the conventional angle that we become accustomed to. These measures prove the energy and excitement entangled in the production of the film, and capture the essence of the boom in the music video era, which presented our musical icons as movie stars for the first time ever.
– Equal exposition. This is obviously Jarev’s story as advertised, but what’s a bit flattering about the screenplay is it takes valued time to contribute to these one-off side characters, teachers, and even every member of Jarev’s family, to better articulate the environment around him. A typical movie would throw a few lines in the direction of these characters, yet bind them from having any emotional weight to the progression of the script. Here’s a film that not only invests in them, but compares and contrasts the differences of their dynamics with our established protagonist. In my opinion, there wasn’t a character in the film who was unnecessary, and even more than this, one that I found unlikeable or non-deserving of their importance to the story.
– Production design. There’s plenty to unload here, but I’ll start with wardrobe design, which was synthetic in displaying the fashion trends of the late 80’s, which were a reflection of famous pop stars. For Jarev’s friends, there’s a lot of suit jackets, complete with padded shoulders and loud, boisterous color designs. For law enforcement, a three piece design, which prove those cops in “Austin Powers” were in fact moving and grooving with extreme comfortability. Aside from the fashion, the interiors are beautifully decorated, and reflective of the style for the Pakistani family , depicting a consistency of reds and golds from wall to wall that preserves a very lived-in quality to their influence. The production masters a level of personal identity without ever springing to feel too obvious within the focus of the scene, and during an age where absorbing styles and fashion trends were constantly changing, the film has a masterful approach in articulating this age of identity.
– Buzzworthy performances. Most of the cast here are virtual unknowns to American audiences, and what I love about that is it gives us the rare chance to paint on a blank canvas. In that regard, Viveik Kalra is a breath of fresh air for how he maintains teenage angst with a level of fresh optimism you don’t typically see. As Jarev, Kalra captures the essence of a dreamer, and one whose isolation from the family falling apart around him weighs heavily on our conscience. This is an actor who has never acted in a big screen movie before, and the professionalism and personality exuberated on his debut effort proves him as a face for the future, especially for his dedication to the craft, which allows him to transform spectacularly into a visual role that looks anything but similar to how he appears in real life. Aside from Viveik, Hayley Atwell is nourishing as a supportive teacher who drives Jarev to be better. The role is a bit cliche, which I will get to later, but Atwell’s energy and persistence for long-winded dialogue is something that translates wonderfully to the kind of mentorship that this character needs to drive him, and Atwell’s impression left on each scene proves that no role is too big or small for her endearing smile.
– Something doesn’t add up. While nothing in yearly consistency was problematic for me, there is a mentality introduced early in the film with Bruce which was a stretch for the particular time frame. Most of the teen characters surrounding Jarev allude to the fact that Bruce is a washed-up singer whose best days are behind him, yet to anyone who knows about late 80’s Bruce, he was fresh off of the success of “Born in the USA”, an album that made him a stadium rock mega-icon. Why is this such a problem for me? Because it makes those spare Bruce fans out to be loners of their kind, and while British new wave was extremely popular for the time, to only credit two kids in the film for having a love of Bruce is an extreme disservice to the one and only boss.
– Cliche’d. There’s a ton of cliches and tropes in the film’s plot that makes it every bit familiar as it is predictable to a scene’s conflict. Supportive teacher? CHECK, disapproving parents? CHECK, A kid trying to escape the town that limits him? CHECK, Neatly tucked in conclusion? CHECK. Everything is there, and stays so reserved from the trailer that we see, which gave us no additional surprises from the outline in my head that I had going into the film. It stands as the one major negative that I wish the film would’ve worked hard to clear itself from.
My Grade: 8/10 or A-