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Review: Blinded By the Light (2019)

Blinded By the Light (2019)

Directed by: Gurinder Chadha

Premise: Based on a true story. In 1987, a teenage Pakistani immigrant (Viveik Kalra) living in the United Kingdom is frustrated with his life and lack of opportunity. He discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen and feels empowered, putting the teen at odds with his traditionalist family.

What Works: Blinded By the Light is many things at once. It is a coming-of-age story, an immigrant narrative, a political tract, and a jukebox musical and it weaves these elements together with skill. The story is primarily about a young man finding his voice through the work of another artist; in this case, an aspiring writer feels validated by the music of Bruce Springsteen and begins taking his own work seriously enough to pursue a career as a writer. The movie captures the joy and enthusiasm of young fandom. In our teenage years, most of us latch onto a musician, writer, or filmmaker whose work speaks to us and enunciates our desires, fears, and preoccupations. The teenage Javed discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen and despite being culturally removed from The Boss’ music he finds himself in the lyrics and doubles down on his own writing. Although Javed begins dressing like Springsteen and quoting his lyrics, Blinded By the Light isn’t just about fandom but also about the way art can empower and enlighten and cross cultural boundaries. The film is also quite political but in a way that is consistent with Springsteen’s music. Blinded By the Light takes place in the UK during the Margaret Thatcher era when austerity measures devastated the working class and the National Front terrorized Pakistani immigrants. The parallels to the present moment could hardly be more obvious but the filmmakers don’t overplay the politics and instead let Springsteen’s lyrics do the talking. The film has some terrific performances, namely Viveik Kalra as Javed. The young man has a lot going on in his life and Kalra is required to do a lot and he creates a vivid and complicated character who is very likable. Also notable are Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra as Javed’s parents. They are the antagonists of the film but they’re not villains and Ghir and Ganatra’s characterizations imbue these people with dignity and empathy.  

What Doesn’t: Blinded By the Light is an immigrant narrative in which a young person finds himself torn between his heritage and his new home. That’s a familiar scenario seen in movies like Bend It Like Beckham, The Big Sick, and The Farewell among others. Blinded By the Light works through this template but doesn’t add much to it. The primary conflict of the story occurs between the son, who wants to assimilate into British society and be a writer, and his father who retains Pakistani identity and traditions. The story builds up to a crisis effectively but the inevitable reconciliation is too quick and does not require enough effort or sacrifice. The musical sequences are also sometimes awkward. At several points Javed sings along to Springsteen while listening to his Walkman and the movie breaks into a song-and-dance sequence. These scenes are out of sync with the tone of the movie and they play clumsily, as though the filmmakers weren’t sure if these sequences should be full-on musical numbers or not.
Bottom Line: Blinded By the Light is a surprisingly layered and complex story that is a lot of fun but also has something to say. It’s a tribute to the music of Bruce Springsteen with a genuine appreciation for what The Boss had to say, but it transcends mere fandom.

Episode: #763 (August 25, 2019)