THE STORY – Javed is a British teen of Pakistani descent growing up in 1987 England. Amidst the racial and economic turmoil of the times, he writes poetry as a means to escape the intolerance of his hometown and the inflexibility of his traditional father. But when a classmate introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen, Javed sees parallels to his working-class life in the powerful lyrics. As Javed discovers an outlet for his own pent-up dreams, he also begins to express himself in his own voice.
THE CAST – Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Nell Williams, Aaron Phagura & Dean-Charles Chapman
THE TEAM – Gurinder Chadha (Director/Writer), Paul Mayeda Berges & Sarfraz Manzoor (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 117 Minutes
By Casey Lee Clark
“Blinded by the Light” makes you feel exactly like the film’s musical crescendo, like running through the streets with boundless joy singing The Boss without a care in the world. This is an easy to love feel-good film, but it also incorporates some painfully real circumstances that ground it in reality rather than it being a hollow shell of saccharine.
Inspired by the life of maybe the world’s biggest Springsteen fan Sarfraz Manzoor (who co-wrote the screenplay) and co-written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, the film is about Javed, a Pakistani Muslim growing up in 1987 Luton, England, who loves writing poems, essays, and song lyrics with the secret hopes of one day becoming a writer. Javed struggles with his father’s traditional and unrealistic expectations of him, all while also dealing with the oppression of Thatcher-era Britain around him. He meets a fellow Pakistani boy at school who introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen, tapping into the adolescent pain and anger he has been feeling and therefore changing his life. It motivates him to do all the things he has wanted: pursuing his writing dreams, getting the girl, taking risks, finally feeling alive; but at what costs? Does finding himself also mean damaging his relationship with his family?
Viveik Kalra as Javed in his debut role is phenomenal and feels like a real discovery. He makes the film work by conveying genuine joy and wonder, but also a pain to him. He seems so eager for the future and alive, but also so tired of the harassment around him and wondering why they aren’t standing up for themselves. He feels completely believable and you root for him every step of the way.
Kulvinder Ghir as Malik, Javed’s father, is also really incredible. The film takes the father character and what would normally feature stereotypical sternness, set in his ways approach and allows him to be a fleshed-out, multi-dimensional character. Sure, he is incredibly traditional and domineering at times. However, there is a clear struggle there. We see him lose his job early in the film and the toll that takes on him and his family. He clearly cares about his family and wants to provide for them, constantly looking for jobs and making decisions for the collective family that they all might not agree with. He uprooted his entire family to Britain and never looked back with the hopes of a better life, and with the world around him, he wonders if that was worth it.
An aspect of the movie that worried me upon seeing the trailer was not the use of the music itself but the actual song lyrics dancing across the screen, and I was concerned about this coming across as cheesy or unnecessarily too much. However, I do think the use of them in the film and their overall purpose works. Javed doesn’t become entranced by this music just by how it makes him feel, but by how the lyrics speak to him and his life. Chadha wants the audience to really read these lyrics in addition to just hearing them in the soundtrack. The film also has an impressive visual style at times, with symmetrical shot compositions and fun color schemes.
The film’s biggest problem is, unfortunately, its screenplay, even that is a victim to genre clichés and easily predictable moments at times. The film does not seem cynic-proof in that way. There are also plot points, particularly in the third act, that feel like they come about or wrap up rather quickly without being fully explored or earned. At times, the script could even be considered basic or pedestrian. However, it can win you over with its charm and heart.
This film completely won me over, and maybe because it was made for people like me. It reminded me of what it felt like to finally find that music that spoke to what I was feeling, understanding the pain and complexities of growing up in a world that doesn’t understand you and that all you want to do is leave. I wanted to run through the streets with Javed and his friends. I felt so much joy when he purchased his jean jacket to look like Bruce. I started to cry watching him listen to Springsteen for the first time. I’m a classic rock kid; I know that feeling. Coincidentally, I’ve also been listening to a lot of Springsteen lately, so it was nice to see someone enjoy this great music on the big screen. I also loved how uncool it was for him to be liking Bruce while most of the people his age were loving synths and New Wave; he just connects to it and loves it and it feels organic and real.
Where the film might lack in creative artistry or clever screenwriting, it certainly makes up for in charisma and heart. It speaks to what discovering certain music can mean for you in your teen years, like “Sing Street” or “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” while also showcasing the complex struggle of Pakistani immigrants and whether to obey their family’s traditional wishes or follow their heart, kind of like “The Big Sick.” It allows you to get lost in that feeling of just really loving something without an ounce of cynicism, and maybe even the film itself can become that for someone.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Viveik Kalra’s captivating debut performance. A three-dimensional portrayal of the disapproving father archetype found in coming-of-age films. The use of music to evoke both infectious joy and realistic adolescent pain. An impressive visual style at times.
THE OSCARS – None