Movie Review: Blinded By the Light

And the movies about ’80s and ’90s pop music icons just keep on coming! Hard on the heels of the “What if…” Beatles-inspired fantasy, YESTERDAY, comes BLINDED BY THE LIGHT. The film is not a biopic about Bruce Springsteen though. Rather, it’s a biopic about British journalist and broadcaster Sarfraz Manzoor, and how The Boss’ music changed his life. This feel-good musical is based on Manzoor’s 2007 memoir, “Greetings from Bury Park”.

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT takes place in 1987. Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra, BBC TV miniseries NEXT OF KIN), the son of Pakistani immigrants, Malik and Noor Khan (played by Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra, respectively), is a high school student in the working class town of Luton. Malik, who works in the nearby Vauxhaul Motors car plant, would like nothing more than to see his son learn a stable profession like accounting but Javed has other ideas. He wants to be a writer. One day, his fellow south Asian classmate, Roops (Aaron Phagura) introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen, which blows Javed’s mind and opens him up to the possibility of breaking the familial and societal chains that he sees are keeping him from being who he wants to be.

It’s hard not to like this sweet underdog story but somehow I was able to find it annoyingly treacly. I get that Javed can strongly relate to the words and emotions of Springsteen’s songs (we all did back then) and I get that he is trying to find his own voice in a world that is rapidly changing both inside his own home and out on the street, but why does this story have to be so cliché? BLINDED BY THE LIGHT is a parade of cardboard cutout characters from the traditional father who rules his castle only on his terms, to the quiet but understanding mother, to the kind English teacher who recognises Javed’s talent even before he does, to the sister who would also love to break free but feels she can’t, to the leftist-activist girlfriend whose parents are staunch Thatcherites, to the best friend who will probably end up on the dole living in a council house with his wife and three kids except he doesn’t know it yet, and to every white guy over 21 in Luton being a white nationalist. The film ticks every stereotype box. While SING STREET lovingly embraces the New Romantic Era, BLINDED BY THE LIGHT belittles it, perhaps to bolster Javed and Roops’ contention that Springsteen’s music is vastly superior. Why can’t you be a fan of both? I certainly was.

Director and co-writer Gurinder Chadha, who is best known for her 2002 sleeper hit, BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, returns to familiar territory with this story of English modernism clashing with south Asian traditionalism but it doesn’t carry with it the same light hand that the earlier film has. In BLINDED BY THE LIGHT, the songs are not only too on the mark, you can see them coming from a mile away. Nowhere is that more true than in the film’s closing scene when the father slaps a Springsteen tape into his car’s cassette deck. In a better written, better directed film, that would be a spoiler but not here. The set piece where Javed, Roops and girlfriend Eliza (Nell Williams, young Cersei Lannister in TV’s GOT) are running, jumping and dancing through central Luton to “Thunder Road” is just something you’ll wish you could unsee.

For all its writing and directing faults, Kalra does a good job bringing wide-eyed exuberance to the role, portraying Javed as a really likeable guy whose future is even brighter than he realises. With any luck, this film will do for Kalra’s career what BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM did for Keira Knightley’s. At the very least, I’m happy that mainstream cinema finally has someone other than Dev Patel to play a protagonist of south Asian descent.

If you are able to look past its shortcomings, BLINDED BY THE LIGHT is a reasonably enjoyable way to spend two hours. For me though, I fear that I will never be able to listen to a Springsteen track again without thinking of this movie.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, September 20th, 8:30 am HK time!

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