Whether you like Bruce Springsteen or not, I dare any viewer of this movie not to be completely swept away by the pure joy of the infectious “Blinded by the Light.”
Inspired by Sarfraz Manzoor’s 2007 memoir “Greetings from Bury Park,” the film “is inspired by the words and music of Bruce Springsteen.”
Set in 1987 Luton (a working-class town in southeast England) we are introduced to Javed, son of a strict factory worker father and a seamstress mother. Javed has been raised in a strict Muslim household that favors old-world obedience over self expressions and following your own dreams.
Javed takes refuge in his poetry (which he keeps hidden from his family) and in the pop music of the eighties as he sets his sights on becoming a journalist and perhaps a songwriter.
In want, Javed feels trapped between his Pakistani culture and the racism of Thatcher-era England, causing him to feel like an outsider. He wants to be both English and Pakistani but finds it impossible to achieve this.
Fellow classmate Roops (a charming Aaron Phegua) introduces Javed to the music of Bruce Springsteen, “the Boss of us all!” and the power of the lyrics explode like a blast of lightning in both Javed’s soul and across the screen itself!
Director Gurinder Chadha sets a lively rhythm that satisfyingly balances reality and musical fantasy. There is a breathtaking moment where the song “The Promise Land” plays as Javed stands outside during a violent storm, overcome and almost bullied by the power of the words, as his mind and heart are set free.
The works of Bruce Springsteen are used as the soundtrack to significant moments of Javed’s emotional growth. Chadha presents many of these moments in fantastical musical form where it seems the world entire is intoxicated by the words of the Boss. It is to the director’s credit that these scenes work so well. Chadha keeps every moment of Javed’s growth absolutely exhilarating. She makes one experience the power of the music as Springsteen’s lyrics literally burn across the screen.
The performances are grand. As Javed, Viveik Kalra finds honesty to one young man’s blossoming courage to seek his own truth. It is a pleasure to watch this somewhat novice actor navigate the many emotions of his character. This could be a star-making turn.
Kulvinder Ghir does fine work as Malik, the strict traditionalist father who constantly leans on Javed. He brings a sadness to his character, as Malik loses his longtime job due to Thatcher imposed redundancies and his heart breaks worrying about providing for his family and paying for his eldest daughter’s upcoming wedding. Ghir started his career as a comedian but shows real skill here in bringing out the complexities beneath a character that seems clichéd on a surface level. His relationship with Javed is the film’s rightful emotional center.
I would’ve liked to have seen more of Aaron Phagura as Roops. The scenes of his budding kinship with Javed are magic and compliment the purity of their friendship, which we learn lasts to this day.
Javed’s romance with his politically-active classmate Eliza (a sweet Nell Williams; photo) and his relationship to his childhood friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) aren’t explored as well but are important in their own ways. Matt becomes jealous of Javed’s relationship with his father (played by a very funny Rob Brydon) and Eliza becomes not only Javed’s very first girlfriend but even more inspiration in finding his voice.
“Blinded by the Light” has relevance in many ways. Its perspective on race relations in the streets of Luton (as white nationalists march for a white-only country and harass local Pakistani families) is strikingly powerful during the current climate in today’s America.
Watching Javed’s family struggle due to Malik’s difficulties with finding work and to see the small working-class community drown under the economic pressures of the Thatcher-imposed job erosion is always a relatable emotion for smaller proletarian towns all over the world.
And all of us, man and woman alike, connect to the feelings of teenage rebellion against social and parental expectations and all of us remember the nights alone in our rooms, headphones on, letting the music carry us closer to our dreams and shaping the adults we would become.
“Blinded by the Light” is a film full of clichés made completely fresh by its cast and director. That this story is based on truth elevates it to something even more personal and important.
This film is a celebration of the freedom of youth, the importance of individuality, the power of music, and the acceptance of family.
I try to steer clear of oft-used catch phrases but this wonderful piece is truly, and in all the best ways, the “feel-good movie” of 2019. “Blinded by the Light” is an absolute joy.