Film & Television

Gurinder Chadha’s New Movie
Will Have You Dancing in the Dark

Help arrives from expected and unexpected corners. A supportive teacher (Hayley Atwell) encourages him to find his voice; she reads his poetry and submits a story he writes for the school paper to an international student writing competition. His new friend Roops educates him on all things Springsteen, while the singer’s lyrics swirl around his head (quite literally; in several scenes Chadha uses the Boss’s words as graphic elements, conveying the life-altering impact they’re having on Javed). A young activist girlfriend, Eliza (Nell Williams), supports his ambitions and provides him with his first taste of love and some much-needed sexy romance for the lyrics he writes for his old friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) and his new wave band. Meanwhile, Matt’s dad (Rob Brydon) applauds Javed’s musical choices and leads an implausible but joyous pseudo music video at his clothing shop.

Much of the film is, of course, implausible. But just as we rooted for Ferris Buehller on his over-the-top day off back in 1986, we can’t help but smile as Javed and Roops highjack the school radio station for a Springsteen marathon, dancing out of the school and through the streets of Luton with Eliza. And, while we are shocked and saddened by Malick’s rejection of his son (“If you leave this house, you don’t come back”), we also know there will be a heartfelt reunion before the film’s end. It is terribly predictable. And, it is terrifically satisfying.

And what holds it all together is Springsteen’s music. The Boss gave Chadha permission to use 19 of his songs, and the life-altering effect they have on Javed is palpable. Teens, especially those who are struggling to construct an identity separate from their parents, find strength and solace in their music. When his father argues that some musician in New Jersey has nothing to do with real life in Luton, Javed insists, “His words speak to me!” 

Chadha, who moved from documentaries to feature films because she wanted to put marginalized characters in the center of her films, recently told Women in Hollywood that there needs to be more support for writers and filmmakers. “I made my first feature, Bhaji on the Beach, 25 years ago, and I’m still the only British Asian woman making feature films — that is appalling.”

But she sees reason for optimism. “For years I have been trotted out to every bloody panel to talk about why we need diversity. That time is over — we don’t ever have to explain why women’s voices matter. No one can argue that cinema shouldn’t reflect the societies we live in and that when those films are made, there are enormous, international audience who are hungry to consume films that feature characters that look like them. A big difference now is no one is saying we should do diversity as a favor because it’s good for us, they’re saying we need to be more diverse because that is our audience and if we want to stay in business and be relevant we better give our audiences what they want.”

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.