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Review: Blinded By The Light

by Chris Feil

Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha brings us another earnest and heartwarming delight with Blinded By The Light, a true story of a Pakistani teenager transported out of his British suburb by the music of Bruce Springsteen. Javed (played by charming newcomer Viveik Kalra) is an outsider inside and outside his home: he can’t abide his father’s rigid cultural expectations and struggles to be taken seriously as writer in a white-dominated community. But the film also speaks to the political and economic concerns of its time period, depicting a lower-middle class world oppressed by Thatcher and the ensuing racist resurgence and capitalistic dominance.

If you expect a coming-of-age period musical fable in the vein of Sing Street, you aren’t far off base. Blinded follows a familiar formula, yet doesn’t rely on its music to tell its emotional story. The film is essentially a traditional father-son story of intergenerational divides but set opposite economic depression and social change, with all of its teenage romance and creative dreams unfolding almost exactly as we expect. But what matters and what captures our emotions is Javed’s context.

The idea is that Javed and Springsteen’s identities, with the music bestowed upon Javed by his enthusiastic new friend Roops (Aaron Phagura), is that they couldn’t be more apart on the surface. Springsteen was small town American and spoke to those concerns, Javed is among the first Muslim families in his community. Luckily the film only allows so much room for that to be a reductive talking point. Instead, Javed connects to the message of The Boss’ music behind the circumstance and finds inspiration for his own writing.

Surprisingly, the film trips on its own musicality. There isn’t much of a consistent through-line with how Chadha captures song, vacillating between sputtering fantasy and the sometimes rote isolation of Javed’s headphones. While some of the Springsteen cues are exciting, the worst of them come with the uninspired motif of scripted lyrics floating around Javed’s body like a PowerPoint projection. The songs and Kalra’s performance already do the heavy lifting to show Javed’s connection to the music that such a hokey, recurring presentation becomes the film’s biggest miscalculation of what it does well. Sometimes, the film is [ahem] dancing in the dark.

While the film’s musical sequences suffer from overreaching, the film luckily doesn’t overplay its hand in making Javed’s story a timely one. Whereas the lyric subtitles are an aesthetic choice that doesn’t trust the audience to feel Javed’s connection to the words of Springsteen, Chadha does trust the audience to see contemporary white supremacy in those who oppressed Javed thirty years ago. And, wisely, their occasional hypocrisy in embracing artistic work that condemns them.

What’s perhaps most musically striking about the film is how its Springsteen skepticism is baked into its narrative. Javed comes to the Springsteen songbook well after the artist had met his hipness expiration date, firmly taking up space on the mantel of Music For Your Dad. But Springsteen is even further cemented into such status, far outside of the nostalgia zeitgeist that now uses music of his time in movies and television for either irony or camp. Take it from this former Springsteen-allergic: the movie might work best for those it wins over on his tunes.

And as the film’s true central conflict reminds us, Springsteen isn’t the music of Javed’s father. Also gifted with lovely performances by Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra as Javed’s parents, Blinded is overly tidy (and sometimes messy) in presenting tropes of children with dreams and parents with demands. But its emotional well runs deep and it thankfully it operates against a different sociopolitical backdrop than these cozy movies tend to have. At the end of a flat and underwhelming summer movie season, Blinded By The Light soothes as it satisfies.

Grade: B-

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Reader Comments (12)

Whatever Gurinder Chadha is up to I wish her success. She is a human dynamo. I was so impressed with Bend it like Beckham (which still stands the test of time) that I have pulled for her ever since. Some of her films are uneven, but they all have so much heart.
Also they are about the Pakistani cultural experience that is totally new to me, and paid little attention to by mainstream culture.
So, as a Springsteen fan, and a Chadha fan, I hope this little film becomes an indie hit.

August 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I got to see this at a festival in June, and it's completely charming. I'm a Springsteen agnostic and it won me over, as it did for a friend who adores Springsteen.

August 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I heard a lot of good things about this film as I do like what Gurinder Chadha has done as my mother LOVES Bend It Like Beckham. I hope it's better than fucking Yesterday. Fuck Richard Curtis!!!!!

August 15, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Listen, I get it. If you want to watch this movie, then by all means. But, if you think for one minute I can sit by and support those God-forsaken, dirty and low-down miscreants...don't think I will be a part of it.

I mean, who do they think they are? They aren't even people like the rest of us. They are...savages!

Of course, I am referring to Springsteen fans.

August 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBen

Does anyone else think, at least at the angle in the poster, that Kalra looks kind of like Alex Wolff?

Also, that poster is giving me serious Juno flashbacks.

August 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAmory

A film for today.

August 16, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

The preview made me want to vomit.

August 16, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

Loved this. It's such a crowd-pleaser that it's easy to overlook how hard that can be to do right. What hit me the most is that this has all the surface pleasures of 80s teen movie nostalgia, while adding more texture and detail and underrepresented voices every step of the way - without ever losing that feeling of fun. It also tries to dig deep into how people actually relate to pop culture, the feeling and connection involved. Think of how many teen movies use fashion shorthand to indicate cliques then never actually bother to consider what style and music might actually MEAN to these kids. This reminded me of "Say Anything" and "I Wanna Hold Your hand", and that's a high compliment.

August 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

ken s. with the hard-hitting critique of the year! :-)

August 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDAVID

@Dave S - yes! It's a lovely representation of teenagerhood and tugged at my heartstrings so hard. I wasn't prepared for how much Viveik Kalra's face alone would just floor me, just that openness to all the world has for him was so beautiful.

August 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

This is an absolute winner. It totally works as a coming of age film, a political commentary, a musical valentine, a fully earned tearjerker. The lead performance is simply enchanting. And the actress who played his mom killed me. Oscar buzz for her, please.

August 17, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

the information is very amazing and great. Thanks for sharing

August 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAndhra Pradesh Schemes

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