Blinded by the Light is directed by Gurinder Chadha, based on the real-life exploits of journalist and Bruce Springsteen fan Sarfraz Manzoor. The movie stars Viveik Kalra, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Kulvinder Ghir, and Nell Williams.
Javed is a teen who’s family immigrated to England from Pakistan. In 1987, economic crises, rampant racism against immigrants, and social upheaval are commonplace. Javed dreams of greater things but is stuck in a working-class community with his family and a songwriter best friend, as he struggles with his own writing. While attending college classes, Javed meets a classmate who turns him on to the music of Bruce Springsteen, which he immediately relates to. Forging a relationship with a girl in his class and the support of one of his teachers, he sets out to fulfill his goals and spread his love of The Boss, but will advancement in his life be possible with an overbearing father and seemingly endless responsibilities and clashing attitudes?
On paper, I thought the premise behind Blinded by the Light sounded a little silly and ridiculous. A foreign teen discovering and spreading the word of Bruce Springsteen music, several years after that artist’s prime? Quite honestly, the end result is a bit silly and over-the-top.
But guess what? It’s actually a fun, feel-good movie. The film beautifully captures its time, moods, sounds, and shows us a side of England not usually shown in the movies. Chemistry between the actors helps bring the tale to life, even if it bites off a little more than it can chew and the running time is a bit excessive.
The biggest positive of Blinded by the Light is its lead actor, Vivek Kalra, who plays Javed (based on the real-life journalist/Springsteen enthusiast Sarfraz Manzoor). In our film, he’s hit with plenty of obstacles, including an overbearing father who doesn’t understand him, conflicts with his songwriter friend, an effort to spread the word of Springsteen’s music, being discriminated against by racists, and contemplating his own future alongside his family’s own wants and needs. Kalra’s portrayal of this character feels completely and totally believable. He’s a character I was happy to spend these two hours with, and I think most audiences will be too. I’d never heard of this kid prior to seeing this movie, but now I can’t wait to see him in something else!
We also get a strong supporting cast as well, with the biggest standout being Javed’s father, played by Kulvinder Ghir. Father-son relationships with plenty of clashing and butting heads are nothing new, but Blinded by the Light scores serious points for not painting the father out to be an emotionless tyrant. Here we get a man who only wants what’s best for his family, even if his ways of getting there are misguided at times. Ghir even manages to bring a certain vulnerability to the part, which isn’t an easy thing to do. It’s similar to the father-son dynamic in October Sky, and that’s a good thing.
The rest of the supporting cast do their jobs well enough, including Javed’s family members. Haley Atwell (Peggy Carter from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) is fantastic in a part as a supportive college teacher, but the film criminally underuses her.
One other thing which deserves praise is the film crew’s ability to recapture a bygone era and location. The mood and fashions of the 80s are captured beautifully, and the soundtrack thankfully isn’t relegated to just Springsteen. Likewise, it’s so rare to see a film set in England which doesn’t just feature London and all of its landmarks. Here, instead, we get to see the “real” working-class England, in a town that’s anything but glamorous. The social upheaval takes center stage in plenty of scenes, taking an approach which highlights the frustrations and day-to-day obstacles folks faces in these times, including a lack of employment opportunity and racial discrimination. It’s a “feel good” movie, but I won’t deny some scenes hit me hard. In a good way.
If there’s one thing which drags the film down, however, it’s that it attempts to reach too far and wide, with too many subplots and characters, and a few over-the-top “musical” sequences in which the film threatens to turn into Rocketman. Javed must deal with his relationship with his family. A romantic relationship with a girl. His musician best friend. Finding work. Bettering himself. Going to school. Getting help writing from his teacher. Meeting his girlfriend’s parents. Forging a relationship with an elderly neighbor who understands his struggle (something I wish the movie had done more with). Determining if he’ll leave his family to go to further his own studies. Determining how he’ll get Bruce Springsteen tickets… which go on sale on his sister’s wedding day? Being discriminated against and bullied by racists. Is your head spinning yet? I understand it’s a movie with a wide scope, but it’s simply too much. The running time of nearly two hours is too long, as well. Cutting about half the characters and subplots and roughly 20 minutes of running time would have made for a more streamlined and overall superior film.
Blinded By the Light has problems, but it’s a solid movie overall. Performances and its atmosphere set it a cut above other similar films. Still solidly recommended.
Rating: Three stars out of four.
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