What Danny Boyle couldn’t do to the Beatles, Gurinder Chadha has done for Bruce Springsteen in this amiable, if predictable, diasporic dramedy about a Pakistani British teenager Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra, winsome and honest) struggling to find his bearings in a hostile pre-Brexit London while his tyrannical tradition-bound father Malik Khan (Kulvinder Ghir) spreads his toxic blustering bigotry all across his family of son, two daughters and a typically repressed wife.
It is all a bit too predictable, though no less enjoyable for it.
It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say this is Gurinder’s most confident and captivating work since her game-changing Bend It Like Beckham. In fact, many of the dramatic tropes and slopes in the storytelling are identical in both films. In Beckham, it was Parminder Nagra and football forming an unorthodox alliance. Here it is Viveik Kalra and Springsteen.
The most charming aspect of this robustly constructed aspirational tale is the way it uses Bruce Springsteen’s working-class songs, not just to carry the fluid if somewhat fabricated story forward, but also to define the young confused protagonist’s self-searching questions on identity and selfhood.
In Danny Boyle’s recent film Yesterday, the Beatles songs came on aribitarily without connecting with the plot. Here, every melodic move matters, and that’s a blessing in musical disguise.
Though outwardly this film favours the fluffy flavour there are references to race attacks in Britain and there is a deeper resonance to Malik’s friendship with his English pal Matt (Dean Charles Chapman) which I wished was more explored.
And really, the young British activist girlfriend (Nell Williams) seems too conveniently devoted to Javed, for no other reason except because Gurinder wills it.
Much more interesting is Javed’s bromance with his best friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) who introduces Javed to Springsteen. By the time Javed drives out of his smalltown existence in his father’s vintage car, father and son bonding over Springsteen’s songs, my perceptions were dipped in an ethereal haze.
I almost expected Springsteen to show up. But no. We are spared that joy. Dancing in the dark is so much more exciting.