erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2019 posts

Tuesday July 09, 2019

Movie Review: Rocketman (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

When I first became aware of the radio, of rock ‘n’ roll as a current thing, it was about 1973, I was 10, and Elton John reigned supreme. He was what the cool older kids of maybe 14 or 16 listened to. They had his albums with the odd titles: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.” Except ... I’ve already screwed up the chronology, haven’t I? “Captain Fantastic” wasn’t released until 1975, which is when I became a regular radio listener, every Sunday night writing down the top 40 songs in the nation along with Casey Kasum like it mattered. Like I do with box office today. I did that for about a year.

So no, I guess I never really learned Elton’s discography or history—not like with the Beatles. I was a completist with the Beatles but as a kid I owned just one Elton album: “Elton John’s Greatest Hits.” I wanted to be the Beatles—or Paul—but never Elton. Feather boas and glitter and those crazy glasses? Who wears glasses? Nerds. Who wants to be a nerd?

It’s astonishing that he was ever a rock star, really. Rock stars were lithe, sexual beasts with long hair who went crazy on guitars and microphones and drums. Elton was a vaguely pudgy, balding dude in glasses and feather boa tinkling on piano keys. But there he was. Everywhere. Even—it was rumored—wearing 10-foot-tall platform shoes in the movie “Tommy.” Bigger kids saw “Tommy.”

There were rumors about Elton but not necessarily about that. “Bennie and the Jets” was about drugs, doofus, don’t you know anything? I also misheard the lyrics: “She’s got electric boobs/Her ma has, too.” Were there rumors of his sexuality? That wasn’t talked about much back then. It was just a playground insult, or something you might see on an episode of “Barney Miller.” Besides, how could he be gay? He was obviously obsessed with electric boobs.

The way he broke in the U.S. also had its own weird path. He didn’t get big in Britain and then ride that wave across the Atlantic. He didn’t keep playing bigger and bigger venues until he wowed us all on American TV. Instead, it was some club in LA. He started there.

Suck-sess
Interesting thing about not knowing Elton’s chronology: “Rocketman” doesn’t know it, either. Or it doesn’t care about it. In fact, it doesn’t care more than I don’t know.

The movie is essentially a jukebox musical, a biopic told via music videos, so it uses what it wants when it wants. The first song he sings at The Troubadour, for example, is “Crocodile Rock,” which is like three years early. Worse, after that show, he meets superhunky John Reid (Richard Madden of “Game of Thrones”), there’ a flurry of headlines about Elton’s success, then he’s back in a London studio recording “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” with Kiki Dee. Reid shows up there, and they become lovers, and Reid becomes his manager, setting himself up to be the villain of the piece. But to me it was like: Wait, the Troubadour in 1970 was the beginning, and “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” in 1977 was near the end—Elton’s last big hit before the MTV-era comeback—so what about the rest? When he reigned supreme? I get jukebox musical; I get truncate as you need; but if you lose too much chronology, you lose the thread and the story.

I also don’t get why music biopics don’t ride the crest of the wave longer. That’s the fascinating part, but here it’s just dealt with in a flurry of headlines. He wows at the Troubadour and then he’s selling 4% of songs worldwide. Give me the steps in between. I’m sure tons of performers wowed at the Troubadour and were never heard from again.

And what do writer Lee Hall (“Billy Elliott,” “War Horse”) and director Dexter Fletcher (“Eddie the Eagle,” “Bohemian Rhapsody”) focus on instead? The dullest story there is: addiction. Booze, drugs, sex—anything to fill the void where love should be. (Cue: “I Want Love.”) The void is interesting, the addiction isn’t. It’s always a long slow fall, and the only question is if there’s a bottom.

Maybe all post-rock ‘n’ roll success is dull. Here’s what biopics tend to give us:

  • Addiction
  • Overwork
  • Abuse
  • Band tensions/breakups

“Rocketman” has all of it. Elton is addicted to drugs and booze, he’s overworked by John Reid, at one point he’s slapped by John Reid (which supposedly didn’t happen), and he and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) suffer tensions and break up. Success never looked so sucky.

You know the real disconnect? The movie is about Elton’s life as represented by his songs ...  yet it’s Bernie who writes the lyrics. We see Bernie writing the lyrics. So how do Bernie’s lyrics correlate to Elton’s life? I guess I’m asking. Because sometimes they do. Look at “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” Lyrics by Bernie but they describe a moment in 1968 when Elton tried to commit suicide because he felt trapped by his engagement to Linda Woodrow, whom he didn’t love, and by society’s expectations of who he was supposed to be. So he tried to asphyxiate himself in a gas oven. The “someone” who saved him is bandmate Long John Baldry, from whom Elton took his rock surname—the John Lennon bit in the movie is fiction. Meanwhile, the relationship with Woodrow in the movie is treated comically—clothes chucked out from a second-floor window as if he were a 1950s husband. You wouldn’t suspect he nearly killed himself because of her.

According to the movie, their songrwiting partnership went like this: Bernie wrote the lyrics independently, and Elton read them at the piano and, bam, came up with music on the spot. C’mon. Let’s dig into it. Who’s Daniel? Who was the young man in the 22nd row? Whose farm metaphor keeps popping up in every other song? Is “Rocket Man” a takeoff on Bowie’s “Space Oddity” or is it how Elton felt skyrocketing to fame, with the line “I’m not the man they think I am at home” an obvious allusion to his homosexuality? If so, how was this communicated to Bernie? I wanted more of that in the movie.

And do they really suggest the line is “I miss the earth so much/I miss my life?” To be PC? Watching, I felt a little like Alvy Singer. “You heard, right? It’s wife. I’m not crazy here.”

That said ...
I thought Taron Egerton fucking nailed it. New respect. “Robin Hood” is now forgiven. It’s a shame last year’s Oscar went to an actor playing a ’70s Brit pop star managed by John Reid and directed by Fletcher because there’s no way they’re going to go there two years in a row, yet Egerton is the more deserving. He sings, for one, and his transformation is more spot on. At times I wondered if they were showing us clips of the real Elton. Just look at that LA concert when he comes out in the glitter Dodger uniform—the way Egerton stands, poses, etc. Perfect.

You know who else I liked? Kit Connor, the preteen Elton who winds up at the Royal Academy of Music and then plays early rock ‘n’ roll at honky tonks with his swept-up red-haired pompadour. He was the first one to get to me. Maybe because he reminded me a bit of my nephew at that age. Or maybe that’s the age when true vulnerability shows.

New respect for Bryce Dallas Howard, too, playing his mom, Sheila. “Jurassic World: Forbidden Kingdom” is now forgiven. (Kidding. Nothing forgives it.) I couldn’t figure out who the actress was for the longest time. I assumed British; she’s that good. Howard should play disdainful more, too.

I’d still recommend the movie. If I was on “Sneak Previews,” my thumb would be a titch above 90 degrees. But I keep thinking of all they missed. The Beatles conquering America in 1964—meaning rock ‘n’ roll could travel westward, too: What impact did that have on a 16-year-old Elton? How about AIDS and the work he did there? Singing at Lady Di’s funeral and rewriting “Candle in the Wind” and turning it into the biggest single ever? The movie pretends that in the early 1980s Elton pushed away the baggage (addiction, Reid) and stormed back with “I’m Still Standing”; but rehab was in the early ’90s, Reid managed him until ’98, and “I’m Still Standing” only reached No. 12 on the U.S. charts. There’s a better story here. 

Tags: , , , ,
Posted at 02:11 PM on Jul 09, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Wednesday June 05, 2019

Movie Review: Meeting Gorbachev (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I learned a lot. But enough?

I‘ll start with the superficial: I had no idea Mikhail Gorbachev was so good-looking as a young man. In photos from the ’40s and ‘50s, he seems almost movie-star handsome. At the least, a B-actor in underrated noirs for Warner Bros. He would’ve given Sterlling Hayden a run for his money. 

An endless chain of catastrophes
I didn’t know he was from the provinces, or the story about his rise: how he didn’t really achieve national attention until the late 1970s. The doc also made me flash back to Ronald Reagan’s incredible good fortune of coming into office as a slate of Soviet general secretaries were dying. We were used to the opposite. Brezhnev came into power in Oct. 1964 and ruled until his death in Nov. 1982—so through the presidencies of LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan. Five presidents. We kept changing, they stayed the same. Then suddenly they kept changing and we stayed the same. During Reagan’s first five years in office, three General Secretaries took the dirt nap: Brezhnev in ’82, Andropov in ’84 and  Chernenko in March 1985. I’d completely forgotten about Chernenko, to be honest, which makes me think of this line from “Doonesbury”: “Do you realize I have absolutely no memory of the Ford years?” Chernenko was the Soviet’s Ford.

I think all of this helped Reagan. How could it not? It was like he was slaying enemies. He stood tall, they dropped. 

Director Werner Herzog has fun with this—trotting out the funeral march again and again, as if he’s reveling in the deaths of these Soviet leaders who divided his country for so long. It’s kid-in-the-back-row stuff—and works. The audience at the Seattle International Film Festival roared.

This is a different kind of Herzog, by the way. You know those mock motivational posters that include nihilistic quotes from Herzog? “I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony but chaos, hostility and murder” or “Human life is part of an endless chain of catastrophes, the demise of the dinosaurs being just one of these events.” Yeah, we don’t see that Herzog. It’s not just that he isn’t a nihilist, he’s a fan, and unabashed. He brings Gorby gifts: sugar-free chocolate from London. I think he even tells Gorbachev he loves him. For what he did. Or didn’t do.

That’s the tragedy, or maybe the tragic irony, of Gorbachev. He set in motion glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”), which led to rebellions against the Soviet Empire, which he could’ve ended with a word. He didn’t. He began a movement that swept him away. He felt the Soviet Union needed greater democracy and it led to Putin, who managed to undermine the world’s great democracy.

I’d forgotten about the putsch, too. Gorbachev and his wife Raisa were on vacation in Crimea when eight older members of the CCCP tried to seize power. They claimed Gorbachev was ill but he taped a message for the world that got out. People protested, Boris Yeltsin, the president of Russia, took advantage, and afterwards Gorbachev seemed a diminished figure. He misread the Soviet satellites. He underestimated nationalism. Or maybe he thought the Soviet was the nationalism. 

Does Herzog’s Gorby-love get in the way of the story? I don’t think he gets enough into his post-Soviet life, while his interviews aren’t particularly enlightening and a little dissonant. They’re speaking different languages—Gorby Russian, Herzog English—and Gorbachev will finish a story with his face expectant of the payoff from the listener; then he’ll have to hold that position awkwardly for a while until his words are translated. Some part of me thinks Herzog likes this awkwardness. It’s part of an endless chain of catastrophes. 

Gestures
Gorbachev is heavier now, and slower, and I don’t think he’s long for this world. He’s probably grateful. The love of his life, Raisa, died in 1999, shortly before Putin took power. He wants to join her. In either the afterlife or oblivion.

Some of the most powerful moments from the doc are actually from another doc, “Gorbachev. After Empire” by Vitaliy Manskiy, which shows the tears Gorbachev shed at Raisa’s funeral, as well as the man himself puttering around the yard, putting lids on trash cans, in 2000 or 2001. The man who could’ve kept the Cold War going with a word or gesture. He’s not appreciated enough for not saying that word or making that gesture.

Tags: , , , , ,
Posted at 05:06 PM on Jun 05, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Tuesday June 04, 2019

Movie Review: Alice (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I can’t remember the last time I was as angry at a movie character as I was at Francois Ferrand (Martin Swabey), the husband of Alice, while watching Josephine Mackeras’ feature film directorial debut, “Alice,” at the Seattle International Film Festival last weekend. I was almost shouting at the screen. Anyone who knows me knows this is aberrant behavior. It’s the opposite of how I want to act.

Give the movie credit that I cared this much. But is it also a problem with the script? The character got me so angry not only because he was awful but because our title character acted so stupidly. 

A terrible fix
Alice (Emile Piponnier) is the wife of Francois, and, as the movie begins, a bit of a nonentity. She’s ultra polite. Ironically, given what she becomes, she’s just a girl who can’t say no. At least that’s what her husband, a lit professor and would-be novelist, tells her before a dinner party she’s prepping, after one of the party guests says she can’t bring the wine and would Alice do it for her? Alice says yes. She can't say no. 

She also can’t say no to her husband. When he arrives home, she asks him to get their son, Jules, out of her hair so she can prep the meal, and instead, he and the boy hover over her. Some of it is cute—he pretends the chocolate is the detritus of fairy tale monsters, etc.—but it’s definitely not helpful, and in retrospect pretty creepy.

The next day she’s buying items at a pharmacy when her credit card is denied. So is her backup. She can’t withdraw money from the ATM and her husband is not picking up. Eventually she goes to the bank inn person and a bank rep spills all:

  • For the past year or two, her husband has been withdrawing their savings, and there's nothing left
  • He hasn’t paid their mortgage in that time
  • The bank is about to foreclose on their home—didn’t you get the notices?

And still hubby isn’t picking up. What begins as polite pleas ends in angry shouting and phone-throwing. After she figures out his computer password, she learns the problem: He’s been spending their money, including the €90,000 her father left her, including all that mortgage money, on high-end hookers.

Me in the audience: Wait, that much money? Is that even possible? I expected another shoe to drop, but that was the shoe. 

Going in, I knew the movie was about a woman in dire circumstances who becomes a hooker and winds up enjoying the power/control of the profession. What works is her path. It's believable. Initially she's merely investigating how much her husband paid for the service. But because she’s tall, thin, and with a girl-next-door face, she gets the gig she didn’t even know she was auditioning for. And because it pays €1,000 or so a throw, and because she immediately owes €7,000+ or she and her son will lose their home, she takes it.

What are the customers like? No one’s horrible; most are tentative; all are men. She starts shy and bumbling but soon gets the hang of it. Her mentor in all of this, and soon her best friend, is Lisa (Chloe Boreham), a tough ex-pat from New Zealand. She tells Alice the ritual: change into something sexy, offer a back massage, soon they’ll turn over, then finish it with the usual protection. Easy peasy.

That we are.

Yes, one dude is a little creepy but he’s creepy internally. He’s working out his own deep issues, but he’s never harmful to Alice.

Watching, I assumed two things. I thought the bank manager, to whom she was paying off the mortgage, would wind up a customer and know where the money came from. Nope. I also imagined that once she got her life in order again after the chaos her husband caused, he would return to cause more chaos. That happens, but it happens much, much sooner than I expected.

Oughter say nix
One day he's just there, back in the apartment, seemingly contrite, with a thin shin of sweat on his pale skin, and taking but really absolving himself of all responsibility. Where was he? At a friend’s. What does he want? To get back together with Alice. What does Alice want? A babysitter.

She’s no “Belle de Jour”—and, yes, someone needs to write an essay comparing the films—because she’ll do it at all hours, at a moment’s notice. In other words, she’s still the girl who can’t say no, but this time for money, and her friends, such as they are, are no help with last-minute babysitting. That’s how Francois worms his way back into her life. She needs a sitter.

Question: Does she think she’ll get away with it? That he’ll accept those terms? That he won’t try for more? How dumb is she? Because of course he finds out what she’s doing, is both turned on and repulsed, demands she stop, then essentially blackmails her: Let me back into your life or I’ll take Jules from you. A last-minute reveal that goes nowhere: The high-end hooker he used most was Lisa.

How does she fight back? She pretends to go along with it, then poisons his meal and chops him up into little bits and puts them out with the compost, where they’re mistaken for worms.

Kidding. She pretends to go along with it, then she and Lisa take everything, including Jules, and move to New Zealand. This dovetails with earlier conversations about Alice wanting to feel the earth beneath her feet, etc., but it leaves questions. I thought she got into hooking to help save her apartment? So did she? Or did she merely stave off the foreclosure for a few weeks/months at exorbitant rates? I mean, once Francois fucked up everything in the beginning, couldn’t she and Jules have simply moved somewhere else and started anew? Without the hooking? So doesn’t the end undercut the entirety of the movie?

“Alice” is winning awards on the festival circuit, and it’s fine for a first feature, but it’s not all that. 

Tags: , , , ,
Posted at 07:22 AM on Jun 04, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Monday June 03, 2019

Movie Review: Frances Ferguson (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

“Frances Ferguson” is the type of movie that gets buzz during a film festival but none afterwards.

It’s a deadpan indie comedy about a woman in a dead-end town with an obvious character defect, and the point of the movie eventually becomes overcoming that defect. But it’s not funny enough or clever enough; and the defect is part of the reason for the buzz: She’s deadpan, unengaged, unfeeling. For a certain type of moviegoer, deadpan is almost a political/sociological stance—a proper response to a corrupt world—but to me it’s the sad, adolescent cousin of cool. I want to say: Move on; grow up.

Writer-director Bob Byington seems destined to make these kinds of things: people who aren’t engaging with the world realizing maybe they should engage with the world. Cf., “Somebody Up There Likes Me” and “7 Chinese Bros.”

Merde
Frances (Kaley Wheless) lives in Point Bluff, Nebraska with a loser husband, Nick (Byington staple Keith Poulson, hair perpetually dangling over one eye), and a 4-year old daughter, Parfait, with a learning disability. She and Nick are uncommunicative. The first time we see him, he’s sitting in their car, parked on a side street, masturbating. It lets us know they’re no longer having sex, etc., but to me it raises this point: Who the hell does this? Is there no locked bathroom? No closet he can use?

Do we ever find out his job, by the way? His career? Anything other than this sad fact? She, anyway, is a substitute teacher at the local high school. We see her nervous before taking over a French class, trying to remember what little French she knows, before being informed that it’s actually a biology class. “Merde,” she mutters. Good bit.

It’s in this biology class that she first contemplates the act that propels the rest of the movie—having sex with a hunky student, Jake (Jake French). Because she’s bored? Self-destructive? Because it’s a biology class? She’s certainly no pro at having an affair. Here’s where she tells her student to meet her in this small town where everyone knows everyone:

  • at a grocery store, while she’s shopping with her husband
  • at a laundromat, where she wears her old cheerleading outfit
  • at a motel

That’s where she’s busted. Is this what she wanted? She’s not saying and neither is the narrator, Nick Offerman, master of the deadpan delivery. She’s sentenced to prison, divorces her husband via online dispute resolution, is paroled, goes through therapy, meets good, bad and ugly people, and begins, maybe, to come out of her shell. That’s the movie. It ends arbitrarily—during a date with Martin Starr, Gilfoyle from “Silicon Valley.” (Yes, this thing is like a deadpan Hall of Fame.)

Why does she maybe begin to come out of her shell? My friend Vinny thought she realized how much her mother screwed her up, and she doesn’t want to do the same to her daughter. Except her mother doesn’t seem that horrible. Frances actually seems worse.

The last time
I saw it at the Seattle International Film Festival, and there was a Q&A afterwards with the star, Wheless, and Byington. One filmgoer asked about a recurring device in the narration: Whenever a character is about to leave the movie, Offerman tells us so: “This is the last time you’ll see Nick.” “This is the last time you’ll see Jake.”

I liked this bit a lot, and Byington talked about how it grew organically: from one character, to the others, to, finally, and why not, Frances. These are the movie’s last words: “This is the last time you’ll see Frances.”

Byington said he hoped moviegoers would feel a little sad at hearing this line; at seeing her go. Trouble was, I wasn’t. I was a bit surprised—because of the arbitrariness of the end—but sad? No. There wasn’t enough there there. The movie is called “Frances Ferguson” but I never knew Frances Ferguson; I just knew the stare and the stance.

Tags: , , , , ,
Posted at 08:35 AM on Jun 03, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Tuesday May 28, 2019

Movie Review: Blinded By the Light (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Bummer. I was rooting for this one.

It’s not like I didn’t enjoy the songs, or the enthusiasm, or the pride I felt that this 1980s Pakistani-British kid and his Sikh friend were bonkers for this very American icon and his very American songs. And it’s not like I didn’t flash back to my own period of Brucedom (1982-87), back when, really, all I wanted in life was to be able to make someone as happy as Bruce made me during, say, “Jersey Girl,” the B-side to “Cover Me.” Which I didn’t even know wasn’t a Springsteen song! It was Tom Waits! How did I not know that? I guess because the internet hadn’t been invented yet.

But I totally flashed back to all that—to waiting in line outside Dayton’s on a cold spring morning to get Springsteen concert tickets for the first leg of his “Born in the U.S.A.” tour, and seeing not one but two shows, including the filming of the “Dancing in the Dark” video with the then-unknown Courtney Cox. I thought of my friend Stu, who wanted to be Freehold, NJ in South Minneapolis, and Dave and Pete, senior year of high school, playing “Thunder Road” on the tapedeck in Dave’s car, and rolling down the windows in unison when Bruce sings “Roll down the windows and let the wind blow back your hair,” which I, in the back seat, thought looked so, so cool.

I flashed to all of this. But man is this a bad movie.

Madman drummers bummers
It begins with real issues (assimilation/first gen conflicts; racism and xenophobia in reactionary times) and gets saccharine and unbelievable fast. Half the movie feels like an exuberant music video, with words printed on the screen; the other half feels like something from the Lifetime channel.

Javed (Viveik Kaira) is a first-gen Pakistani kid growing up in the 1980s in Luton, England, with his mom, two sisters, a gregarious but strict dad, and not many friends. OK, so he’s still got childhood friend Matt, but Matt grows up to be a kind of spoiled, working class kid with poncy hair and make-up. He wants to be Duran Duran. Plus he’s played by Dean-Charles Chapman, who played the younger brother of Joffrey in “Game of Thrones.” I spent half the movie trying to figure out who he was and why he bugged me so.  

As Javed begins senior year of high school, we see a series of problems he needs to deal with:

  • Girls
  • Dad
  • National Front fucks in Thatcher’s England

The last is the most immediate. Coming home from school, he sees a skinhead spraypainting “PAKIS OUT,” or some such, on a neighbor’s garage. The skinhead stares him down, intimidates him, follows him back to the cul-de-sac where he lives. We expect more from this but it never arrives. We expect Javed to have to stand up to them, or one of them, but he doesn’t. That feels true anyway—it's easy to avoid fights: I know—but the issue isn’t really confronted. When NF fucks attack the father during the sister’s wedding, for example, Javed is off buying Springsteen concert tickets. So he feels guilty, right? Who knows? Because then Dad gets angry and tears up the concert tickets. Then Javed flies to America against his father’s wishes because he won an essay contest. He and his friend take pictures in all the Bruce spots. Wooooo! Then he returns, there’s a facile reconciliation with the father, but do we hear from the racists again? They just kind of fade away. Which, we've found out recently, racists never do. 

Of the three dilemmas, girls turns out to be the easiest. Maybe because he’s a good writer or something, with a teacher, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell), forever pushing him to “find his own voice,” and who keeps entering his essays into contests that he keeps winning, and because of all of this, maybe, he wins over Eliza, the cute, feisty classmate he’s long had a crush on. (Eliza, by the way, is played by Nell Williams, who played the young Cersei in a throwback episode of “Game of Thrones.” Which means, in another world, his girlfriend gave birth to his best friend. Awkward.) But what do we know about Eliza? Anything? She’s just a prize.

Is it odd that in the U.K. in the fall of 1987 Springsteen is considered your dad’s rock ‘n’ roll? A bit. He was still charting and putting out platinum records in the U.K. Is it odd that Javed somehow got through junior high and high school in the 1980s without even hearing of him? Yes. Then he runs into a Sikh dude, Roops (Aaron Phagura), who lays some tapes on him, “The River” and “Darkness,” and who tells him, “Bruce is a direct line to all that’s true in this shitty world.” Javed is doubtful. He knows us? But once he plays him, Bruce takes over his life. He talks about him, writes about him, dresses like him, posters his walls with his posters, sings his songs, quotes his songs. It’s a bit much, to be honest.

I like that the lyrics are put on screen—that the words matter. I didn’t like how it became a music video; I didn’t like that the enthusiasm for the songs outstripped the movie’s logic. In one scene, Javed and Roops break into the school’s DJ station and put on “Born to Run,” to the consternation of the Pet Shop Boys-loving kid who runs it, and it blasts throughout the school. But their enthusiasm takes them outside the school, where ... they’re still singing the song? Are there speakers outside, too? Is this a Bollywood movie? Same at Saturday market. Javed is listening to a song (“Thunder Road”?), then he sees Eliza and begins singing it to her; then he’s joined by Matt’s dad (Rob Brydon in wig), and soon the whole Saturday market is singing it.

What’s the appeal of Springsteen anyway? In a broad sense, I think it’s twofold:

  1. The sense of being trapped
  2. The need to get out

That’s why he appeals to high schoolers. Springsteen mythologized the dissolute nothingness of high school and its aftermaths, paling around with Spanish Johnny, Hazy Davy and Bad Scooter, and going after girls like Rosy, Wendy, and of course Mary. Bruce mythologized breaking free: “It’s town full of losers, and I’m pulling out of here to win,” etc. He made this small life seem big and poetic. But getting out wasn’t an answer in itself, and eventually his working-class characters couldn’t even get the jobs they were running from. Springsteen’s songs began as poetry about youthful possibilities, and ended as prose about the dead ends of adulthood.

Above all there’s a yearning—generally for something that once existed or never will.

Indians in the summer
There’s some of this in the movie, but it’s a shame writer-director Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”) didn’t underline how Bruce’s songs help push Javed toward Eliza (for the romance of it) and away from his father (because he’s the reason Javed feels trapped).

The father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), may be the movie’s biggest problem. He’s over-the-top in a way that’s uninteresting. He snatches Javed’s wages, forbids him going to parties, discourages his writing, doesn’t want him to go to a distinguished university since it’ll be away from the family. Then he wonders why he isn’t happy. The reconciliation, for both, is that Javed moves forward, and away, but doesn’t forget his family. As if that were ever a thing.

I didn’t even get to the elderly white neighbor who shows up periodically to give Javed a thumbs up.

“Blinded By the Light” is based on a true story but never feels true. It always feels like feel-good fantasy. It’s exactly what Springsteen’s music wasn’t.

Tags: , , ,
Posted at 03:08 PM on May 28, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
All previous entries
 RSS    Facebook

Twitter: @ErikLundegaard

ARCHIVES
LINKS