Blinded By The Light (2019)
Director: Gurinder Chadha | Runtime: 1h 58min | comedy, drama, romance
In the late 1980’s and teenager Javed (Viveik Kalra) lives with his Pakistani family in Luton, struggling with normal school troubles of understanding who he is and what he wants to do, the minefield of romance all heightened by racial tensions from the National Front. From the recommendation of Roops (Aaron Phagura) he opens his mind and heart to the music of Bruce Springsteen, not only changing how he considers his passion of writing, but his outlook on life as well.
Director and co-screenwriter Gurinder Chadha hit 2019’s summer with a cinematic adaption of real-life journalist Sarfaz Manzoor and his love for ‘The Boss’, Bruce Springsteen. Chadha is likely most known for features Bend It Like Beckham (2002) and Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008), and while still working within her talent for the teenage audience, she steps away from that slightly creating a new feature with a much wider scope with a far more family feel, really aiming to please everyone.
With the claim that Springsteen changed the life of Manzoor and our conduit for him, Javed, it would be strange to miss out the biggest hits – and as such, Chadha fills the soundtrack with every last tune squeezed in, feeling like a jukebox exploding with everything from ‘Dancing In The Dark’ to ‘The Promised Land’ and just about everything in between. Many of these have a real impact on screen adding what feels like a genuine reason for it to be Springsteen, some are well presented – when Javed first plays the tapes given to him by Roops the aforementioned ‘Dancing In The Dark’ kicks in, affecting him in such a way that he has to go outside (into the ‘hurricane’ of 1987), the poems he discarded earlier flying around him, Springsteen’s lyrics swirling around him and plastering the walls down the street.
As much as these scenes are highly entertaining, and usually the right level of cutesy-sweetness, the film really does suffer in the early stages whilst setting up the world and characters. Easily the lowest point throughout, the dialogue is on the verge of just plain bad, it’s very awkward with very few of these early conversations actually feeling like real interactions, instead just the screenwriters dumping a load of exposition on us so we can get on with the rest of the story. It’s very heavy handed and clunky, and does come across a bit lazy on the filmmaking side, as many others have created the same information with far more poise and craft.
It would feel worth it if the rest of the film was of a much higher standard than this first 20 minutes, which it does when it hits it’s stride, but Chadha doesn’t get the consistency needed to really elevate the film as a whole. The biggest issue lies in the originality, at its heart Blinded By The Light is a coming of age story about a teenage boy having trouble balancing what he wants to do with his life against the more traditionalist opinions of his father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir). Javed wants to be a writer, Malik wants him to be a lawyer, doctor, alike, and by the time the credits roll it all feels familiar, although based on a true story it feels far more like nice fiction with a lovely bow, lacking the authenticity it needed to take it up a notch.
It isn’t all bad, as there are enough shining moments throughout to enjoy the film as a whole. The relationship between Javed and Eliza (Nell Williams) is sweet and cheesy high school romance, but played in a way that is thoroughly believable and right for the tone of the film. Both Kalra and Williams have a great on screen presence and have a great chemistry between them. The instances in which Javed sings Springsteen lyrics to Eliza are some of the cheesiest moments, and generally they hit well really toeing the line well between enjoyable and syrup, but the times that miss are really felt, and adds to the lack of authenticity that is present at the end.
There are interesting themes of prejudice and discrimination throughout, the elements of racial tensions between Javed and his Pakistani family and friends with the National Front campaigning against immigrants is well handled, never feels preachy, instead works well to remind us that this was the 80’s, and although time has passed this are issues that minorities till have to deal with today. The only issue lies in that all of these characters have one of two outcomes; they’re either racist and we don’t see them again, or they’ve completed changed from our original perceptions of them. It doesn’t feel genuine to the those that have had to deal with this both in the film and in reality, we’re shown racism without our characters getting any form of justice. It wouldn’t need complete resolution, but large sections of the film don’t acknowledge the very real issue that we have been shown, and when much of the relationship between Javed and his father is about understanding one another, it feels like there was a gap in the narrative around them.
Although it’s not a bad film, Blinded By The Light does leave plenty of room for something that could have been. It falls back into too many generic and familiar story beats to really break from the mould, and suffers from a poor opening that the rest of film can’t pick up enough to really engage with it outside of a few key scenes. It’s sweet to the point of syrup, and for many this tied with the soundtrack of Springsteen will be enough to make this a feel good, but forgettable, summery romp.