I was really into Bruce Springsteen in the 80s. I’d rip open the shrink wrap on every new vinyl record he made and pore over the lyrics even before listening to the songs. He wrote about ordinary people who had shallow pockets but deep souls. His music, which I called a “dive bar wall of sound”, had an epic, cinematic quality to it while still retaining a classic meat and potatoes style. The world may have moved on from his type of music, but with Blinded By The Light, Gurinder Chadha, who gave us the delightful Bend It Like Beckham, has delivered a crowd-pleasing film about the love of writing. While it goes a little overboard in the fan service department, its Thatcher Era immigration tale provides for a touching, breezy experience.
Viveik Kalra plays Javed, a young student whose Pakistan born parents moved to small town 1987 England to provide a better life for their children. The family patriarch, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) maintains strict control over his long-suffering wife and children. Despite wanting Javed to pursue a more practical profession, he longs for a career as a writer. One day, fellow student Goops (a delightful Aaron Phagura) slips Javed a couple of Springsteen cassettes, thus beginning his instant fandom. Harassed by neighborhood bullies and crushed by his father’s domineering parenting style, Javed finds solace in the Boss’ songs about escaping his oppressive confines. Chadha, who co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Mayeda Berges and Sarfaz Manzoor, splashes the screen with Springsteen’s lyrics for every musical sequence, bringing us seemingly inside Javed’s head.
Encouraged by one of his college professors, Javed begins writing for the school newspaper while pursuing a sweet relationship with Eliza (Nell Williams), a like-minded young woman. He also has a best friend, Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman who played Tommen Baratheon in Game Of Thrones you guys!) who plays in a new wave synth band and rejects Springsteen as an irrelevant musician only their dads should like. I could go on with all of the various plot lines, since, needless to say, we’ve entered kitchen sink territory. In fact, it’s all a bit much except when our characters break out in song. Chadha finds the beating heart of her film in such sequences as Born To Run, sending all of my feel-good squishy vibes through the stratosphere by simply having her leads run down streets and sing. It’s simple yet effective filmmaking.
Eventually, however, I grew tired of Javed myopically worshipping Springsteen. Would it have killed him to put on a little Bangles or Blondie? It reminded me of my Ohio high school friends who blasted classic rock 24/7. I couldn’t wait to move to Los Angeles just so I could listen to The Pretenders without fear of being called a traitor. Having said that, this film does have its heart in the right place. It explores racism, culture wars, and economic hardships and does so with a very pleasing cast. As an exploration of a writer finding his voice, it rings true. What the film does best, however, is in finding the tension between the traditions of Javed’s parents with his own need to escape that world. Eventually, it all leads to a predictable speech on a stage, which I found extremely lazy, especially considering all of the creative ways Chadha has found to get us inside Javed’s head. All told, Blinded By The Light scores points for getting people to dust off their old Springsteen records and consider his work from an immigrant perspective. It fits right into the current craze of celebrating music icons (Yesterday, Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman) yet retains a humble style reminiscent of British films from the era it’s set in, such as My Beautiful Launderette. I most likely won’t remember this film in the same way, but I’ll probably stop and rewatch the musical sequences whenever it streams.
GAY SCALE: For each review, I’ll rate the film on my 50 SHADES OF GAY SCALE to let you know how far it tips in our favor. Blinded By The Light gets a 0 out of 50. Matt, with his outsized hair and guy liner could have easily been a gay character, but I suppose with as much going on as there is in this film, there just wasn’t room enough for another issue.
By Glenn Gaylord
Blinded By The Light is currently in wide release in the US.