Movie Review: Blinded by the Light

“Hey! What’s with these softball topics?” you might be asking.

It’s the holidays, Israel doesn’t have a government, everything in the world is happening so fast my head is spinning, and, to be honest, not a single panicky headline has affected my day-to-day life. What’s a girl to do but go to the movies?

Short review

It’s a sweet coming-of-age movie: a Pakistani teen in Luton (UK) is inspired by the music of Bruce Springsteen to chase his dreams. It’s a universal story, but if you grew up in the 1980s, well, it’ll be a trip down memory lane (cassettes, LPs, music, and “fashion”).

Two Thumbs Up!

 

Long review

I wasn’t sure I wanted to see this movie, but it was the backstory for the making of the movie that drew me in. The movie is based on a memoir written by Sarfraz Manzoor called Greetings from Bury Park. Long story short: Bruce read the book, liked it, gave the green light to make the movie, and let them use his music for free.

In one interview, Sarfraz says that the movie works because of what the audience brings to their understanding of it. And that was exactly my experience with this film. My dad gave me the cassette of Born in the USA. I didn’t grow up in an industrial town, and I went to an extremely white high school where most people’s parents were doctors, lawyers, well-off somebody or others who had probably never heard the words “laid off” or “factory closing” in their lives. But Bruce’s lyrics were powerful and told familiar stories.

“My Hometown” always struck a chord with me.

A dad drives with his child through town saying “this is your hometown.” “Your hometown” isn’t a place, it’s a feeling of nostalgia, connection, who you are in the depth of your soul.

This was probably also the time I developed my warped sense of humor .

Seeing the movie in an Israeli theater was an interesting experience. In the movie, the main character’s father tells him to “follow the Jews! They are a successful people!” Laughs throughout the audience, of course. And when the main character confesses to liking the music of Bruce Springsteen, his father asks if Springsteen is a Jew. More laughs from the audience. I’m pretty sure most other audiences wouldn’t have picked up on those lines in quite the same way – it was an “only in Israel” moment.

Having gone to high school in the 1980s, seeing the clothes, set, music, and everything else, was fun. Here too, though, I brought my own experience to the film. I wasn’t a visible minority (immigrant Jew isn’t tattooed on my forehead), but watching a sixteen-year-old Pakistani with his turban-wearing Sikh friend in a mostly white high school in Thatcher’s UK with neo-Nazis marching through the neighborhood reminded me that I felt different from my peers in those days. My friends didn’t care, but I found out later I was shunned by the popular kids because of it. Luckily for me, I couldn’t have cared less because like the main character, I planned to get out as soon as possible.

The main character’s struggle against his father and all he represents is the main story. In one scene, we see that in this traditional household, all money earned is given to the father to help pay the bills. Later the father is laid off and everyone has to work harder. How will our main character spread his wings and fly if he is chained to the nest where every life choice is determined by his father? The details might be different, but it is a universal story of a younger generation in conflict with the traditions of an older generation.

You also have the question of where “home” is. For an older immigrant who remembers the old country, home might be there. But for a younger immigrant who knows no other place, home is here, but echoes of a home come from there. It’s doubly confusing if your neighbors tell you to “go home” when you thought you already were home.

This movie adds to the conversation about today’s political climate. Unfortunately, it reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun and history does repeat itself. And yet, if a Pakistani kid in Luton can be inspired by the songs of a white guy from New Jersey maybe, just maybe, we can also be reminded that in these kinds of universal stories we can find our humanity, learn from history, and make our little corners of the world better.

For me personally, I got a chance to remember my dad who introduced me to The Boss, remember with fondness my high school years, and happily know that my “Glory Days” were still ahead of me.

 

Nevertheless …

Objectively speaking, the world has had a pretty sh*tty week.

  • Massacre in two New Zealand mosques by a right wing extremist who proudly posted it live on social media
  • Rockets in Tel Aviv
  • Response in Gaza
  • Terror cell found in Syrian Golan Heights
  • Boeing 737 Max 8 making air travel scarier than ever
  • Scandal in the US of parents cheating the system to get their over-privileged children into higher-tier universities
  • Scandal in Korea of a Korean pop star who offered sex services for business investment that snowballed into a bigger scandal involving hidden-camera sex videos shared in chatrooms
  • Spa sex scandal in the US, which shines a light on human trafficking all over the US while delegitimizing the massage therapist profession
  • Learning about the despicable crimes of R. Kelly and Jussie Smollett, and wondering why Paul Manafort got off so lightly
  • Anti-Semitism showing itself on the Left and the Right (around the world)
  • Ugly election campaigns
  • Preventable diseases making a comeback because of misinformation and ungrounded fear

It’s weeks like this that make me think it might be a good idea to get off social media and stop reading the news.

Nevertheless …

woman-2143886_1920

Image by John Hain from Pixabay 

I actually had a pretty good week.

  • Finished a big project on gender equality in the workplace
  • Saw a matinee of Captain Marvel and walked home in my blue suede shoes

Short review: So. Much. Fun!
Best feminist line: “I don’t have to prove anything to you!”
Best multi-level joke: Cat named Goose

  • Cheered for the runners in the Jerusalem Marathon – it rained the day before and the day after, but the on the day of the race, the weather was perfect
  • Took time for self-care, cooking (mushroom barley soup and quinoa fennel cranberry salad), and baking (molasses cookies)

This is not an ode to being selfish. Rather it’s a reminder to be grateful for the blessings in your own life and trying to make your corner of the world a little bit brighter. Human beings always have a choice. We can choose to have good people in our lives and do good things. We’ll slip from time to time and hopefully learn to do better.

But if we start to believe that the world is dark, horrible, filled with evil, and nothing we do even matters in the great scheme of things, well, then we will have a lot more weeks like this one.

So instead of looking at the world and saying “whatever,” let’s look at the world and say “nevertheless!”

 

Review – Bohemian Rhapsody

Short Review

Bohemian Rhapsody is a celebration of Queen’s music featuring a loving tribute to Freddie Mercury. Don’t expect a documentary or a traditional biography. This is a perfectly cast love letter to Queen fans around the world. And if you ever liked any Queen songs, you’ll enjoy this movie. I give it two thumbs up!

(Really) Long Review

Spoilers below the trailer

***

The first Queen song I ever heard was “Another One Bites the Dust.” I was 9 and my Mormon best friend warned me that we shouldn’t listen to it because it was about drugs. Not being one to just blindly ban music, I listened carefully to the lyrics and decided that it was about gangsters, and the more I listened, the more I liked it. How could something with such a slick bass line be bad?

I wouldn’t consider myself a Queen fan, but Queen was definitely part of the soundtrack of my life. I know most of the songs, but they are interspersed among Big-Hair-Bands of the 1980s, the oldies played by 94.5 KATS FM, the new and shiny videos on MTV back in the day when they played music 24/7, and British New Wave Bands.

Queen showed up again at my high school pep rallies. Stomp. Stomp. Clap. Stomp. Stomp. Clap. As we shook the bleachers, we solemnly vowed to rock our opponents. And when we won, we were the champions with no time for losers. We were the champions of the world!

It was Wayne’s World that finally brought “Bohemian Rhapsody” into my consciousness.

Even now, when I finish a big project, I play “We are the Champions!” and march around the living room with my fists in the air. When I’m frustrated and need some inspiration, “I Want to Break Free!” When a series of projects gets finished, “Another One Bites the Dust.”

I saw Bohemian Rhapsody on opening night. It wasn’t my plan, it just worked out that way. Almost every Israeli I’ve spoken to is a big Queen fan, which explains why the movie is playing on three screens in one theater.

This movie is a celebration of Queen’s music and a way to introduce it to a new generation of fans. Interspersed with the story of the music is the story of Freddie Mercury, a complex person who was much more than the stage persona. The movie is called Bohemian Rhapsody and when you put all the pieces together you can understand why.

Definition of rhapsody 

4a musical composition of irregular form having an improvisatory character

Every role in this film is perfectly cast. Rami Malek plays Freddie – well, he doesn’t just play him, he becomes him. Brian May’s wife came on set and was apparently shocked by how much Gwilym Lee looked like Brian at that age. Joe Mazzello called his mother to confirm his parentage because he looked so much like John Deacon. And Roger Taylor could be Ben Hardy’s uncle.

queen-1989-billboard-1548BH actorsIn case you’re confused, the bottom picture is from the film. 🙂

Somewhere along the way, you are perfectly cast in the film too. You aren’t an observer of the film, you’re a participant in the story. Two notes and one chord in, you know the song. You laugh along with the band and their jokes. You hang out at the parties. You’re in the audience when the spectacle of Queen is on stage.

More than that, we are with Freddie at his highs and his lows. The saddest moment in the film, and one of the most powerful, is when Freddie gets his diagnosis. He goes alone to the clinic and we see the doctor reflected in Freddie’s mirrored sunglasses. We don’t hear what he’s saying, but we know. And then the reflection shows the floor. That split second was probably more devastating than hearing the diagnosis and seeing a reaction. As Freddie walks out, a fan – obviously sick – recognizes him and softly sings: “Ey Oh!” And Freddie answers back: “Ey Oh!” He was alone and yet we were all there with him.

Superfans will rankle at the fact that Freddie didn’t actually get his diagnosis until 1987 and this is meant to be 1985. Superfans might be annoyed by many details in this movie. (Rami’s eyes aren’t brown!)

But we have to acknowledge that this movie is not a lot of things.

It’s not a Hero’s Journey. Disney is the master for heroes on a journey. Freddie was Freddie and nothing more or less.

It’s not a documentary. There’s plenty of footage on Youtube if you want that.

It’s not a biography. Freddie didn’t write all the songs and he wasn’t alone in the band. He was larger than life on stage, but this story is not exactly about him. He is interwoven in the music.

It’s not a story of coming to terms with one’s sexual orientation, or redemption, or a son finally earning the approval of his father. It’s all there, but none of that is the story.

It’s not a reenactment of a rock-and-roll lifestyle.
(Attention parents who want to share their love of Queen with their kids: It has a PG-13 rating; much of the darkness and hedonism is softened. There are hints, though.)

It’s not a finely crafted, manicured storyline. (See the definition of rhapsody above.) It’s kind of a mess that has a more or less linear timeline. Kind-of like life. And that’s what makes it feel real.

It’s not … well, true. Lots of things are accurate to the smallest detail, but a lot of things are written off to “poetic license.” If anyone believes that in the same afternoon Freddie found his final life partner after visiting every Jim Hutton in the whole London telephone book, introduced him to his family, reconciled with his father, and then played Live Aid, well, clearly that person lives in an awesome fantasyland.

Fun Points:

The Live Aid concert was filmed note for note, step for step. Watching the Live Aid footage afterwards, I was stunned at how accurate it was.

Mike Myers is in the movie playing the record exec refusing to promote “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Says he: “No one will ever be driving in their car banging their heads to this song.” HA!

In the press interviews, it’s clear that all the actors took their roles extremely seriously and will carry their characters with them. This was a special experience for them and you see it on the screen, and more importantly, you feel it. The actors also carry the burden of responsibility for the message that they want the movie to send:

Be who you are.

Embrace all your idiosyncrasies and imperfections.

You are not alone.

Listen to Queen

In answer to the question: Is this a good movie?

The answer is a resounding YES.

If a movie stays with you for days afterwards, if you are scouring the internet looking for more and more and more information, if you find yourself suddenly a Queen superfan, then there’s no question it’s a good movie.

Go see it!