Review: “Blinded by the Light”

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Being a fan of something goes beyond merely enjoying the work of a person, or liking a certain movie, musician, book, TV show, or sports team.  It can move you in ways that are indescribable, and have a profound impact on your life.  This impact is explored in “Blinded by the Light,” a film directed by Gurinder Chadha and based on a true story about a young man who discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen. 

The year is 1987; the place, Luton, England.  Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra) is the son of Pakistani immigrant parents.  Javed enjoys listening to rock music and writing poetry, which his very traditional father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) disapproves of.  Feeling out of place at school due to his ethnicity and interests, Javed’s life is immediately changed when another Asian student, Roops (Aaron Phagura) loans him two Bruce Springsteen cassette tapes.  Javed feels like the lyrics speak directly to him and his problems, and life starts to get better for him.  He meets a girl, Eliza (Nell Williams), and begins showing off his writing, even obtaining an internship at the Herald thanks to the encouragement of his teacher, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell).  But the rift between him and his father only grows stronger, forcing him to choose between his passion and his family.

Javed (Viveik Kalra) and Eliza (Nell Williams)

“Blinded by the Light” wonderfully captures the exuberance and feeling of connecting with something.  The Springsteen tunes propel the story forward, but Javed’s charisma and enthusiasm make it stick.  Kalra, in his feature film debut, makes Javed immediately likeable and relatable.  You don’t necessarily have to like Springsteen’s music to enjoy this movie, because this story is less about that, and more about a father and son trying to reconnect, and a young man struggling to fit in, and the characters convey that even before the music is introduced.  Ghir also brings more depth to his character beyond the stubborn dad; he is, in his way, likeable as well, so that the audience roots for the two to eventually come together.  Among the supporting characters stealing the show are Dean-Charles Chapman and Rob Brydon as Matt—Javed’s childhood best friend who is now in a band and doesn’t understand Javed’s obsession with Springsteen—and his more hip father.

The manner in which the music is placed in the film is interesting, however.  For the most part, the songs play over the action in the movie.  But sometimes (generally when Javed is privately listening to it), lyrics appear on screen to further emphasize what Javed is feeling.  And then there are a couple other times when the characters burst into song, musical-style.  It seems like the filmmakers couldn’t decide whether they wanted to make a music movie or a movie musical, and just decided to do both.  There is also a surprising amount of politics injected into the story.  This is a time when Margaret Thatcher is Prime Minister, and white supremacist groups are harassing England’s immigrant community.  While seeing how Javed is treated by others versus his white peers is incredibly important and sad, the political atmosphere often feels like it was forced into the story.  It also contributes to the odd tone of the film, which frequently goes between comedy and drama but not always in the smoothest way.  The script is predictable, fairly cheesy, and almost even manipulative.  The film’s energy masks a lot of those flaws, but they are still there.

Regardless, “Blinded by the Light” will resonate with anyone who has ever loved or felt deeply moved by something.  It’s the best feeling in the world, and it’s a feeling that the movie loving replicates for its audience.

Runtime: 118 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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