Do you remember your first Springsteen song? Director Gurinder Chadha certainly does, and she has distilled that energy into a charming coming-of-age film about how music has the power to entirely change your life. Like her best-known film Bend It Like Beckham, Blinded by the Light is the story of a young British person struggling to pursue their passion while dealing with conservative households. While Jess had soccer and David Beckham, Javed has poetry and Bruce Springsteen. It’s a winning formula for a film about family, tradition, and overcoming stereotyping.
Javed (Viveik Kalra) lives in a tiny British town called Luton in 1987. Margaret Thatcher is in office, skinhead gangs are rampant, and Javed’s conservative Pakistani father (Kulvinder Ghir) has been laid off and takes his frustration out on his family. Journaling and poetry are Javed’s only means of escape, until his new friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) gives him the cassette tapes of Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Javed immediately connects to Bruce’s working class lyrics, feeling that Bruce is speaking directly to him. Javed’s entire personality and wardrobe starts to revolve around Bruce, much to the chagrin of his father and former best friend Matt (Dean Charles Chapman). However, Bruce’s music cannot change everyone, and racial tensions continue to rise around town, coming to a head in violent ways.
Blinded by the Light isn’t perfect. Both Roops and Matt seem to drop out of the film when they’re not plot relevant, which left me confused as to their importance. The film opens with young Javed and Matt talking about their dreams, but Matt barely features in the middle act. Nell Williams brings a lot of charm to the typical “girlfriend” role, but unfortunately remains just that. The great Hayley Atwell plays Javed’s headstrong teacher who we see among the protestors at a white pride parade, but she too rarely gets to rise above the “inspirational teacher” archetype. Fortunately, Viveik Kalra is more than capable of leading the film. Javed is a great character whose journey of self-discovery should be relatable to anyone who dreams of escaping their hometowns and living by their own rules. Most importantly, he fully sells how it feels to hear Bruce for the first time.
Overall, Blinded by the Light is an appealing antidote to the summer’s deluge of CGI superhero films and nightmarish remakes of classic animated films. It’s the sort of film that deserves a fighting chance as a theatrical release. The cast is mostly unknowns and almost entirely non-white. It has a definite leftist sensibility, naturally – Bruce wouldn’t put his name on anything that even hinted at supporting conservatives. Best of all, it gave me an excuse to listen to “Thunder Road” on repeat at work. Go see Blinded by the Light when it comes out August 16th and sing along with Javed.
Blinded by the Light
Dir. Gurinder Chandra
Opens everywhere August 16th (though the Hassle recommends the Capitol, or your local mom & pop cineplex)