Review: Blinded by the Light
Do you remember the first time you fell in love with a song? How you didn't just listen to it but truly felt the music? Perhaps the lyrics spoke to your soul and made you feel like you weren't alone. Maybe the beat was so energizing that it made you want to run through the streets dancing and singing along at the top of your lungs. It's a rush of euphoria that you can feel pulsing through your veins. No movie has captured that feeling quite like Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded by the Light. It's a film that's so uplifting that it might just instill that same joyous feeling in its audience as well.
The story is based on journalist Sarfraz Manzoor's memoir, Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll. He even co-wrote the screenplay with the film's director and her husband, Paul Mayeda Berges. In Blinded by the Light, newcomer Viveik Kalra delivers a captivating and charming performance as Javed, the fictionalized version of Manzoor.
Javed is a British teenager of Pakistani descent, who desperately yearns to escape his small hometown of Luton, England. The year is 1987, and Thatcherism is on the rise. Javed's biggest passion is writing, which helps him escape from the racial, economic, and social tensions that surround him. He also writes lyrics for his friend and neighbor, Alex (Dean-Charles Chapman). Like many adolescents, Javed struggles with feelings of angst and loneliness. He can't seem to find a girlfriend, and his overbearing father (Kulvinder Ghir) won't allow him to attend parties.
In typical coming-of-age fashion, Javed experiences agonizing self-doubt. It doesn't help that his family is so traditional that his parents see writing as a mere hobby. But everything changes when his friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) introduces him to Bruce Springsteen's music. As the lyrics jump out of his headphones and swirl around him, Javed finally feels understood. On top of finding solace in Springsteen’s music, he also finds the courage to share his writing with others. His teacher, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell) recognizes his talent and encourages him to continue expressing his unique voice.
If you aren't a Springsteen fan, don't let that deter you from seeing Blinded by the Light. Despite the specificities of a British-Pakistani Muslim teenager obsessing over Bruce Springsteen in 1987, the film's themes are undoubtedly universal. Javed must learn to strike a balance between his artistic ambitions and his love for his family. Ultimately, Blinded by the Light is about trying to find your place in the world without forgetting where you came from.
Javed is blinded by his love for Springsteen's music that he fails to see how selfish some of his actions are. Similarly, audiences will be blinded by how cheerful and endearing Blinded by the Light is that they're less likely to get hung up on the film's countless faults. The movie proudly beams with exuberance. It almost dares you to sit through it without cracking a smile. It's the epitome of a feel-good movie, but only marginally avoids becoming saccharine. Although the film is a genuine crowd-pleaser, many viewers will find it unbearably cheesy and cringe-worthy.
Blinded by the Light is so delightful that it's easy to overlook its shortcomings. The plot is predictable and hits all the familiar beats. Clumsy editing and inconsistent pacing weigh the film down. The runtime is also longer than necessary, causing it to lose momentum about halfway through.
The soundtrack gives the film a boost and highlights the different musical tastes that the characters possess. Javed might be obsessed with Bruce Springsteen, but he learns to be open-minded about the fact that his friends and family don't share the same musical preferences. Even if he doesn't like the same genres as his sister Shazia (Nikita Mehta) or his friend Alex, he realizes that the music they like is still special because it's meaningful to them. Regardless of which artists we listen to, our innate love for music has the power to unite us. Hence, this film isn't solely for Springsteen fans. It's for all music lovers and dreamers alike.
After a recent string of musical biopics, there's something oddly refreshing about Blinded by the Light. Bruce Springsteen's music may have been the inspiration, but this isn't a biopic. It also isn't trying to be an awards contender or anything more than a lighthearted, enjoyable experience. Chadha’s film is messy, flawed, and sweet to a fault, but it also radiates with confidence and enthusiasm. Blinded by the Light might be the most breezy, heartwarming movie you see all year.
Blinded by the Light hits theaters on Friday, August 16, 2019.