So here's my review and thoughts on the movie.
I don't watch many movies - especially in the cinema, but the trailers had been very promising and I remember enjoying the book the movie is based on. So of course I went to see the preshow last Monday.
To address one of the obvious questions - it is hard for many Americans to understand Bruce Springsteen's popularity abroad. Sure, we know he's a massively talented songwriter and live performer, but he's so American, how can people living somewhere else relate properly to what he's singing about?
In my experience, the America he sings about (which appeals to American fans for its very familiarity) is fascinating for its novelty to non-U.S. audience, and his liberal politics tend to go down well in places that don't put capitalism on a pedestal. This movie covers that a little, but what it does really well is to show just how well Bruce's songs translate in their relateability to a listener immersed in a different culture. Intergenerational clashes between teens and parents who just don't understand each other very well; ostracized feelings of being on the outside looking in; the urge to escape from stifling places we call home, but that offer limited prospects for the future - these are not American themes, they are universal topics. Javed is exactly at that confusing point in life where popular music really can feel genuinely life changing - or even life saving.
The movie draws countless parallels between Javed's life in and Bruce's own formative experiences as a teen. Used Cars and My Hometown are not featured in the soundtrack, but they would have fit in very well - in fact there there are scenes that seem tailor written to fit those songs. But this is first and foremost a story of coming of age, and of the personal nature of fandom. And I suspect the film wouldn't have impacted me the way it did if I didn't see so much of my former self in the protagonist.
It's almost impossible for me to talk about the movie without talking about my own life, as it touches on so many memories of mine. This obviously isn't my story - I moved from England to Norway in 1989 when I was 11, so my immigrant experience was very different from Javed's. And my parents (who I generally got on with quite well) were far more supportive of my passion for music. I do recall growing up in Thatcher's England, though I was younger and largely oblivious of popular culture, fashion, music, and politics. But I remember generally feeling like an awkward social outsider as a teen, sensing that I was missing out on things. And then of course there was the discovery of Bruce Springsteen: For me this happened in 1989 when I was 11, right after having moved to a new country.
The movie veered into the musical genre a little too much for me, which I find cheesy and unappealing, but it sort of forced me to process very familiar songs quite differently from how I usually do, which was interesting. Watching the movie sometimes feels as awkward as listening to Queen of the Supermarket, but (just like with that song) this isn't a bad thing - because it is about an awkward guy. I found myself cringing a lot, but a lot of that was just me squirming at the discomfort of my own memories of being a weird, angsty and earnest teen who had just found his own key to the universe. Bruce's music would go on to sustain me for life, but being one of his fans really wasn't cool for a kid in middle and high school in the '90s, and it didn't help me make many friends at the time.
I don't think I've ever seen a movie that connected this much to my own life - it was a powerful thing and I was sitting there close to tears a few times. It's a little longer than it needs to be, and the ending is a little predictable and rushed. But I'm very, very glad this movie got made. For Bruce fans, many of us will relate to a lot in the movie, but it's also a reminder that Tramps like us are not all the same. Bruce's music and message truly does transcend borders, generations, cultures, and religions.
Of course the real test will not be whether the fan community embraces it, but how it fares at the box office. Most of the reviews so far have been positive, and I do hope the viewing public gives it a chance. It is a good time to go back and re read the book it is based on - Greetings from Bury Park by Sarfraz Manzoor.