Blinded By The Light Review: Let the Music Guide You
As a Jersey Boy and fan of The Boss, Blinded by the Light was definitely right up my alley. Inspired by the life of Sarfraz Manzoor, Blinded by the Light is the newest film from Bend it Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in January and was acquired by New Line Cinema for the tune of $15 million.
Blinded by the Light follows Javed (Viveik Kalra), a Pakistani teenager living in Luton, England under Margaret Thatcher’s regime in the late 80s. Struggling to discover who he is, Javed writes poetry as a way to express his feelings about his demanding father and living in a town plagued by racial intolerance. One afternoon, Roops (Aaron Phagura), one of Javed’s classmates, hands him two audio cassettes that will change his life forever.
Music is a powerful thing. A single song can touch a person or billions of people. Music allows us to collectively convey a multitude of emotions, including happiness, anger, frustration, and sadness. Music can have a different effect on everyone, but one thing is for sure, it speaks to all of us in some way. Blinded by the Light celebrates the music of Bruce Springsteen by showcasing how his lyrics spoke to Sarfraz Manzoor and impacted his life in ways he never knew possible.
It would be unfair to label this film as a coming-of-age story because it is so much more than that. Javed’s story and the themes explored within are timely and relevant. While the film takes place in the late 80s, it feels uncomfortably identical to the current Trump era. Javed tries to avoid hatred, but whenever he steps outside, he is constantly reminded that he is a Pakistani living in Luton and not wanted. In one scene, Javed sneaks off to buy Bruce Springsteen tickets. As he makes his way back, he sees that a local protest has turned into a violent riot and his father is brutally attacked.
While Chadha isn’t afraid of addressing complicated subject matter, her film is lighthearted and full of hope. As Javed listens to “Dancing in the Dark” for the first time, we, as viewers, immediately see the spark that has been ignited within him. The way that Chadha brings the music of Springsteen to life is handled in such a refreshing way. Sure, there is a beautiful music video moment where Javed, Roops, and Eliza (Nell Williams) run through Luton singing, but it’s the scenes where Springsteen’s lyrics pop up on-screen that feel genuinely unique. Chadha puts such emphasis on specific words and how they relate to what is currently going on in the film.
Movies and music go together like peanut butter and jelly. Several films use music as part of the plot but Blinded by the Light shows how a musician’s words can cross generations and cultural lines. Springsteen’s music tackles universal themes that are relatable regardless of a person’s skin color, what they believe in, or where they live. Even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of The Boss, Chadha proves music resonates with others in ways no other art form can.
The performances in Blinded by the Light come across as authentic rather than showy. Newcomer Viveik Kalra, who is in almost every scene of the film, delivers an incredible and nuanced performance. Javed, as a character, lives a very complicated life as one trying to figure out who he wants to be while dealing with financial woes, racial intolerance, and family drama. I was surprised to learn that this was Kalra’s first role because the majority of the emotional weight in this film rests on his shoulders.
Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra play Javed’s father and mother, Malik and Noor. Both of these actors work together to embrace the material and their roles. Malik is a complicated character because he wants his son to have a better life than he does. And yet, he doesn’t realize his son has dreams of his own. A scene where Malik drops Javed off at school and yells, “Look for the Jews, they are very successful people,” made me laugh. While another scene where Malik and Noor are forced to sell their jewelry at a pawn shop is heartbreaking. Ghir and Ganatra play very traditional parental roles but are forced to see how their actions take a toll.
Blinded by the Light is a feel-good crowd-pleaser that doesn’t shy away from tackling the harsh realities of life. Chadha embraces life’s ups and down with a film playing as a love letter to dreamers everywhere. A delightful celebration of creativity, life, family, and music. You don’t have to love the music of Bruce Springsteen to love this movie. However, it will be hard to walk away from this film without having some appreciation for the Boss and his iconic music.
Scott ‘Movie Man’ Menzel’s rating for Blinded by the Light is an 8 out of 10.