BLINDED BY THE LIGHT (2019)
Starring Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Aaron Phagura, Dean-Charles Chapman, Nikita Mehta, Nell Williams, Tara Divina, Rob Brydon, Frankie Fox, Hayley Atwell, Sally Phillips, David Hayman, Jeff Mirza, Olivia Poulet, Ronak Singh Chadha Berges, Billy Barratt, Scott Folan, Kit Reeve and James Ballanger.
Screenplay by Sarfraz Manzoor, Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges.
Directed by Gurinder Chadha.
Distributed by New Line Pictures. 114 minutes. Rated PG-13.
This is the second British import in recent months that celebrates a single musical star and the effect they had on people’s lives and pop culture. While Yesterday used The Beatles’ music to tell more of a fantasy and romantic comedy, Blinded by the Light shares that film’s feel-good vibe while telling a much more blue-collar and street smart tale, which makes a certain amount of sense since the film is celebrating the work of Bruce Springsteen.
It is directed by Gurinder Chadha, who is probably best known for making the 2002 surprise hit Bend it Like Beckham. Which makes some sense, because in many ways Blinded by the Light and Bend it Like Beckham tell pretty much the same story. A non-devout Muslim (Punjabi Sikhs in Beckham, Pakistanis here) teen who is part of a first-generation immigrant family in England becomes obsessed with a pop-culture icon (David Beckham in the earlier film, Springsteen here). Love of that celebrity changes the kid’s life, but it also causes strife within their traditional family, who feel that the hero does not reflect their beliefs.
However, through their love of their hero, their life is changed, and they find the courage to leave their small, provincial British hometown behind and follow their dreams (being a football player in Beckham, being a journalist in Blinded).
Interestingly, the story works much better this time around. I found Blinded by the Light is significantly more enjoyable than I did Bend it Like Beckham, though I am willing to acknowledge that perhaps I identified with the story of Blinded By the Light much more than I did the earlier film.
A hard scrabble “based on a true story” coming of age film set in a small town in the UK called Luton in 1987, the tale of immigration and bigotry is sadly all too pertinent today. The story of a shy boy named Javed (Viveik Kalra) finding his muse through the discovery of new music is a very relatable. The soundtrack (not just the Springsteen stuff, by the way) is terrific. There is even a sweet love story and a family drama tacked on.
What’s not to like?
One slight problem with Blinded by the Light is that they have mischaracterized Springsteen’s career in order to tell their particular story. Pretty much everyone seems to be telling Javed that Springsteen is long past his prime – dad rock – someone who has little to offer to the youth of the day. However, in 1987, the era in which the film takes place, Springsteen had just released his biggest album – the multi-platinum Born in the USA – only three years earlier. In the time since then, Springsteen had released a stunningly successful five-record live set (one of the most popular box sets and live albums ever). He was just in the process of releasing Tunnel of Love – his biggest solo album without the E Street Band – as the action in the film was taking place.
That hardly seems like a has-been. Granted, I grew up in Philadelphia (an hour or two drive from Springsteen’s beloved Asbury Park, NJ haunts), not in Luton, UK, so perhaps his popularity was somewhat amplified in my life. But still it feels like a cheat to hang an underdog story on, since it seems obvious that Springsteen’s career popularity was at a high-water mark.
All the synth pop kids of 1987 – who are mostly mocked here – liked Bruce, too. More to the point, many of the then-current new wave songs which are used in the film – things like “It’s a Sin” by Pet Shop Boys, “Don’t You Want Me?” by the Human League, “The Sun Always Shines on TV” by a-ha, “Lessons in Love” by Level 42 and “Mary’s Prayer” by Danny Wilson – are terrific songs on their own right. And being disdainful of Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” is really obvious, low-hanging fruit (plus, the song is not as horrible as they suggest). Eighties music was never an either/or proposition. You were allowed to like both Bruce and the top of the pops. Claiming otherwise seems as close-minded as the supposed anti-Bruce forces Javed runs up against.
But okay, taking the movie on its own merits and looking at it as a portrait of growing up as an outcast in 1980s small town England and finding one’s way in life, Blinded by the Light is a sweet success. It has brains, it has energy and it has heart.
Much like the music that inspired it.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2019 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 15, 2019.