‘Blinded by the Light’ uses Bruce Springsteen’s music to wonderful effect in this cross-cultural musical.
Kernel Rating: 4.5 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 117 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. This film focuses on a Pakistani-British high school student who discovers Bruce Springsteen’s music and is inspired to pursue writing. The film is set during Margaret Thatcher’s reign in Britain, and there is a focus on the fear and racism exhibited by the British far-right party National Front; they march with racist signs, spit on and attack people, and use slurs. Other examples of racist behavior include threats against the Pakistani-British community, a children’s prank where they urinate inside someone’s home, and a hate crime at a local mosque; there is some cursing and rude jokes; and sexually themed humor and a teenage relationship including kissing.
By Roxana Hadadi
What does it take to follow your dreams, when everyone around you seems to doubt them? That is the central concern of filmmaker Gurinder Chadha’s Bruce Springsteen-focused musical “Blinded by the Light.” Chadha’s preceding film “Bend It Like Beckham” covered similar topics of cross-cultural tension, but “Blinded by the Light” uses Springsteen’s discography to fantastic effect, mining it both for emotional impact and flat-out fun.
The film focuses on teenager Javed (Viveik Kalra), growing up in Luton, a small town in the UK. In 1987, Margaret Thatcher’s right-wing politics and a nationwide recession are trickling down, and Javed sees the effects on his friends and family. His parents are struggling to find and keep work, and worry that they won’t be able to pay for his sister’s wedding. His best friend’s dad owns a small business, and can’t take on any new workers. And the right-wing party the National Front is growing bolder, with members spray-painting slurs throughout the town and children mocking and attacking members of the Pakistani-British community.
Harassed by his neighbors and classmates and misunderstood by his family, Javed yearns to escape, writing song lyrics, poems, and essays that he’s wary to share with others. But his English teacher, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell), is supportive, and soon he catches the eye of a fellow student, Eliza (Nell Williams), who is interested in social justice. Things seem to be looking up—and then his friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) passes him a Bruce Springsteen cassette tape, and everything changes.
The way Springsteen writes about growing up in a small town, about dreaming of a bigger future, about feeling misplaced in his skin and his surroundings—all of that speaks to Javed. But how can he get out of Luton? How can he reconcile his personal desires with the expectations of his family, in particular his father Vivek (Kulvinder Ghir), who looks to his only son for the future of his name? Will his dream of being a writer come true?
“Blinded by the Light” is overwhelming earnest, and its sincerity is a lovely balm. Coupled with excellent use of Springsteen songs like “Thunder Road”—the lyrics of which appear onscreen as if written by a typewriter, swirling around Javed—the film walks the line between being a flat-out musical and a family drama inspired by Springsteen’s words. When the movie does indulge in a long dance sequence set to Springsteen, with Eliza, Javed, and Roops running through the streets singing, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the joy and love on display.
Maintaining a balance between an adoration for Springsteen’s songs and the very scary politics displayed by the National Front is tricky, but Chadha reinforces that these two concepts are in conversation with each other. The closed-mindedness of National Front members is contrasted with the open-heartedness of Springsteen’s lyrics, and the movie does a nice job exploring how Javed’s family at first resists and later grows to accept his dreams. The entire ensemble is fantastic, and Kalra and Phagura in particular have a lovely chemistry as two close friends who find in each other the companion they didn’t know they needed. It will be hard to walk out of “Blinded by the Light” without a smile on your face, and for Springsteen fans, the movie is a love letter that feels more earned than the repetitive nature of the Beatles-adoring “Yesterday.”
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