February 2, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Sundance Film Festival Reviews: “Blinded By The Light” & “Judy and Punch”


BLINDED BY THE LIGHT (New Line/Warners):  Sundance was somewhat awash in feel-good movies this year, which is unusual but not unprecedented.  One of the most successful in previous years was 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham, directed by Gurinder Chadha.  Chadha returned to the festival this year after some time in the movie wilderness (Bride & Prejudice, It’s A Wonderful Afterlife, Viceroy’s House) with a different and yet very tonally similar story, this time with Bruce Springsteen substituted for David Beckham as the celebrity who changes a youthful enthusiast’s life.  Inspired by the autobiography of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, Blinded By The Light gives us Javed (Vivek Kaira), who’s trudging through his high school years in 1980s England when a friend turns him on to Springsteen.  Almost instantly, his inner life feels validated and his attitude changes.  Although his conflicts sharpen with his traditionalist Pakistani-immigrant father (Kulvinder Ghir), Javed is suddenly alive with a spirit that leads him to a pretty girlfriend and a desire to pursue a writing career.  Everything here is predictable, and Blinded isn’t quite up to the level of Beckham, which had a wider scope of developed characters and more of a ticking-clock third act.  Still, Blinded By The Light is nonstop charming, and often delightful, with an appealing cast and what seems to have been unlimited access to the Springsteen catalogue, some of which is used in full-scale musical numbers.  New Line paid $15M for the movie, and it definitely has the potential, a la Beckham, to become a mainstream success.

JUDY & PUNCH (no distrib):  Mirrah Foulkes’s feature writing/directing debut bites off a lot.  It’s set in a fantasy version of the Middle Ages, where the peasants do tai chi (to a Leonard Cohen song on the soundtrack), and women are condemned to death as witches if they look too long at the moon.  “Professor” Punch (Damon Herriman) and his wife Judy (Mia Wasikowska) return to their hometown of Seaside (which is landlocked) with a new baby and their puppetry act, for which inevitably Punch gets the credit although Judy is the real talent.  Punch is a nightmare, misogynistic, adulterous and violently abusive, especially when he’s drunk, which he usually is.  Judy & Punch is the tale of Judy’s gradual empowerment, and it has little use for subtlety, but Foulkes takes real tonal risks (the single most ghastly consequence of Punch’s behavior is played as a sight gag), and that makes the film consistently original.  The comic violence, of course, ties in to the traditional Punch & Judy puppet shows, and Foulkes is asking audiences to question what underlies that comedy.  Not all of this works, but Foulkes has created a thought-provoking farce-thriller, with an impressive visual style, and Wasikowska and Herriman are both charismatic and watchable as the story’s embodiments of evil and good.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."