Film Review: ‘Blinded By The Light’ Gives Fandom A Good Name
Since Bohemian Rhapsody exploded at the box office, we have been treated to a steady stream of music biopics — Rocketman and Judy, for starters — and films inspired by an artist’s discography (Yesterday and Last Christmas immediately spring to mind). Blinded By The Light loosely falls into the latter category. Gurinder Chadha’s winning dramedy weaves a dozen Bruce Springsteen hits into a coming of age story, but the focus here is not so much on the songs. Rather, it’s about the way music can elevate and empower. In this case, a Pakistani immigrant in 1980s England.
In 2019, Javed Khan would be called a stan. After discovering The Boss, our hero lives and breathes his very American tales of hardship and escape. The 16-year-old even models his hair and wardrobe on Bruce. While most modern accounts of fan culture focus on the negatives (of which there are many), this is a reminder that fandom can be a literal lifeline. Blinded By The Light is a testament to music’s ability to make the lost and lonely feel understood and seen. Which, in turn, gives them the strength to persevere.
Nothing is quite as suffocating as growing up in a small town. Throw in overprotective parents and a rigid upbringing, and your only impulse is to flee. Particularly if you’re a free thinker like Javed. While his mother and father tread water in their self-made bubble, he loses himself in pop music and writing. The teenager pens poems and lyrics for his friend’s terrible band. It all seems meaningless, however, given his father’s traditional values and disinclination to the arts.
But then fate intervenes when Javed becomes friends with Roops. His new buddy introduces him to Springsteen, who, at that point, had somewhat fallen out of favor with the synth-obsessed UK youth. In my experience, songs and artists have a way of finding you when you need them most. And that’s exactly what happens when Javed’s world comes crashing down. One night, he pops Born In The U.S.A. into his walkman and, suddenly, he is galvanized. The realization that another person on planet earth feels or has felt his frustration is thrilling.
From this point on, Javed slowly shakes the chains of tradition and familial expectation with a little help from The Boss. He also finds the courage to stand up to racism and dream bigger. In his first major starring role, Viveik Kalra is a revelation as Javed. He’s petulant and stubborn, but also kind, loving and brave. The film really succeeds when it documents life for the Khans in ’80s Britain. The sense of isolation in the face of economic downtown and a resurgence in nationalism feels uncannily familiar in 2019.
The film is less successful, however, when it tries to intertwine Bruce’s music into the plot. It works brilliantly when it happens organically (the scene where Javed plays “Dancing In The Dark” in a thunder storm is superb), but there are times when it feels forced. Particularly, the uncomfortable dance sequence that comes out of nowhere. Chadha, the visionary director behind Bend It Like Beckham, also struggles with tone. Sometimes, the film feels inappropriately light (like when Javed is thrown out of home) or unnecessarily heavy (the finale).
While these shortcomings are unfortunate, they do nothing to diminish the film’s immense charm. The fact that it is based on the adolescence of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor (he co-wrote the screenplay), adds another layer of poignancy to the story. And then there’s the soundtrack. From “Born To Run” to “The River,” every Bruce Springsteen hit will leave you desperate to dive into The Boss’ ’80s oeuvre. Blinded By The Light is now available to download, rent and purchase on DVD or Blu-ray. It is highly recommended.