Film review, by Emily Shears, of the movie Blinded By the Light, about a Muslim boy in 1980’s Luton, England who takes solace from racial prejudice in the music of Bruce Springsteen.
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Synopsis, by Emily Shears
Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a Muslim boy starting his A-Levels in a dreary part of Luton, competing with the harsh realities of the rife unemployment of Thatcher’s Britain in 1987 and the threat of National Front attacks daily. The only way he can seek solace is through writing and the music of Bruce Springsteen and the dream that someday the two will take him somewhere far away from Luton.
Review, by Emily Shears
Do you remember the first time you heard a song or band that changed your life?
Blinded by the Light explores just that with Javed and his love of Bruce Springsteen in the synth-pop era of 1987, as a Muslim boy coming-of-age in Luton (it’s a town in England, formerly in the county of Bedfordshire, for any readers outside of the UK).
As a Bruce Springsteen fan myself, as soon as I saw the trailer for this film I knew it was a movie I would have to try, because it’s always interesting to hear people’s stories of how Springsteen first spoke to them and the songs they love the most.
In some ways the film didn’t disappoint. The soundtrack was obviously incredible, although it was missing some of my own personal Springsteen favourites (but you can’t please them all, can you?). Hearing the soundtrack against the relatively humdrum Luton backdrop helped convey the bleakness of the time and Javed’s dream to escape.
The real saviours of the film have to be Javed’s friend Roops (played by Aaron Phagura) who introduces him to ‘The Boss’ (for the uninitiated – Springsteen’s nickname by fans) and his English teacher Mrs Clay (Hayley Atwell) whose encouragement – although at times seemingly insincere – give Javed the push he really needed.
Blinded by the Light dissects 1987’s middle England at length. The National Front and Anti-Fascist movements dominate the headlines and the Luton that Javid has grown up in. Throughout the film issues of race, belonging, cultural identity and expectations are explored, along with the generational angst between father and son with the lure of British culture and Javed’s dream to write being dismissed by his father as not being a proper career.
Nothing new and groundbreaking there then, but I felt that the movie bit off more than it could chew by trying to shoehorn in as many issues as possible, with some left unanswered and whole plot-lines being dropped with little mention, which was unsatisfying.
The fact that Javed wins a competition that miraculously takes him to New Jersey seems too good to be true, but gives Springsteen fans a great montage of all the places they should go and have their photo taken (I will be freeze framing this and taking notes for the future!)
As a lover of musicals and music-themed films, at times Blinded by the Light got the set pieces just right; the way that Thunder Road manages to unite a Luton market in song, from Javed serenading love interest Eliza (Nell Williams), injected some much-needed fun-loving comedy, not least because of Rob Brydon and his questionable mullet.
The scene where Javed and Roops confront National Front supporters whilst singing along to ‘Badlands’ gave a fearless edge and spirit that needed to carry through the entire film.
In some ways this film could be Bend It Like Beckham (2002) but with ‘The Boss’ and his troubadour tales of working-class America, which somehow manage to perfectly mirror the bleak Luton neighbourhood and the crushing austerity and unemployment of Thatcher’s Britain: why does this sound familiar?
There were several moments in the film that made me physically cringe, like having your teenage diaries read and displayed on the big screen. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me at several points, and here is why.
Reciting song lyrics in a British accent (with no hint of Springsteen’s New Jersey accent) could possibly be endearing if done once and carefully, but not when it happens every 10 minutes or so. Add to that having people sing over some of Springsteen’s most celebrated songs, as if they were just casually listening in their bedroom, and you can probably imagine where I’m coming from. Having this recur throughout the film made it feel a bit twee and forced, and arguably removed some of the poignancy of the themes it was threading together from Javed’s experiences and Springsteen’s songs. If they’d not joined up the dots and made it so obvious how much the lyrics were speaking to Javed, particularly in the scene where he first listens to Dancing in the Dark, it would have been more powerful and raw than seeing the lyrics randomly appearing on the screen (although I was tempted to make it a singalong screening!).
Despite the occasional cringeworthy and twee elements, Blinded by the Light is a great Sunday afternoon film whose ending and soundtrack leaves you with the typical warm, fuzzy feeling that you kind of expect from Gurinder Chadha. If you look at this as a go-to coming-of-age film with teenage angst, rebellion and the pangs of first love, it ticks all the boxes, it just falls flat in other areas.
To paraphrase the Boss himself: “It ain’t a beauty, but hey, it’s alright”.
Cast & credits
Director: Gurinder Chadha. 1hr 57mins/117mins. Bend It Films/Ingenious Media/ Levantine Films/Rakija Films. (12a)
Producers: Jane Barclay, Gurinder Chadha, Jamal Daniel.
Writers: Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha, Sarfraz Manzoor.
Camera: Ben Smithard.
Music: A.R. Rahman.
Sets: Nick Ellis.
Kulvinder Ghir, Viveik Kalra, Meera Ganatra, Aaron Phagura, Dean-Charles Chapman, Nikita Mehta, Nell Williams, Tara Divina, Rob Brydon, Hayley Atwell, Sally Phillips.