This last couple of years has definitely been interesting for music related movies. We’ve had more traditional style biopics in the form of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, and we’ve also had a fun musical adventure of a slightly different nature in the form of Yesterday. So that’s Queen, Elton John and The Beatles sorted out, who next? And in what form? I’ve got all the time in the world for a high quality, straight forward telling of a musician’s story, but every now and then it can be even more fun to hear their iconic music in a completely different and unusual context. Step forward, Blinded By The Light.
Set against the backdrop of 1980s Luton, the film tells the true story of Javed (Viveik Kalra) a British-Pakistani teenager who discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen, and in doing so, finds the inspiration and motivation to break from the confines of his strict family life and pursue his dreams of becoming a writer.
Blinded By The Light is directed by Gurinder Chadha, who was also responsible for the 2002 banger Bend It Like Beckham, and in many ways the two films feel very much like companion pieces. One tells the story of an Asian girl breaking tradition to become a footballer and the other tells the story of an Asian boy doing the same in search of a writing career, and at several key narrative points the films echo each other in their thematic approaches to things like cultural differences, racism, first love and family dynamics.
Of course, the unique selling point of this movie is the inclusion of Bruce Springsteen, taking the place of David Beckham as the protagonist’s bedroom poster hero. Javed finds a deep connection to the humble yet poetic, down to the earth yet star gazing lyrics of ‘the Boss’, and makes direct comparisons between the singer’s plight in blue collar America and his own life in Thatcherite Britain. Depressingly, the political and social tensions depicted throughout the narrative are chillingly transferable to today’s climate, something that actually works against the proposed ‘feel good’ label that Blinded By The Light has been slapped with on hundreds of bus adverts across the country.
Whilst it is great to hear the magic of Bruce Springsteen’s music brought to life in such an interesting and non-typical way, it also must be said that the film overall isn’t quite as sharp, technically strong and clean as it perhaps could be. From Javed’s personal life to the wider British Thatcherite culture and all of the ways in which those two things intersect, there are times when Blinded By The Light feels a little bit too busy and tonally messy.
Ultimately, the musical sequences are inventive in parts, joyous in others, even tear jerking at times, and Springsteen is certainly an artist whose music should be committed to film in as many ways as possible. The film is laugh out loud funny on more than one occasion, but bringing it back to the tonal disparity that is displayed across different sequences, it feels a little bit like the filmmakers have failed to create that cathartic balance that is so vital in classic ‘feel good’ movies like this one aims to be. It’s hard to kick back and have a good time when the ‘old school’ racism you are watching on screen is the same kind of racism that has so heavily and prevalently crept its way back into certain parts of British society in recent times.
As protagonist Javed, Viveik Kalra is the charming, sympathetic, lovable heart of the film. So earnest and endearing in his performance, Kalra proves himself absolutely perfect for the role. The audience loves Javed from the moment we see him, and this love remains strong throughout the entire narrative. Though not all of the individual plot elements weave together in the neatest ways, Kalra is there to provide the spark and enjoyable connection that, to be honest, allows the film to flow in a much more palatable way than its script deserves to.
A long and respected list of actors make up the various supporting roles within the film, the likes of Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon and Sally Phillips all doing a good job of evoking the feel of the era. Kulvinder Ghir is tasked with playing Javed’s father, arguably a stereotypical characterisation of a strict, conservative, traditional Pakistani patriarch, but there is an all important sliver of heart that prevents the character from becoming truly irredeemable before the inevitable change of heart moments in the final third.
There are no bad performances in the film, but in the process of writing this review it really does hit home the feeling that Viveik Kalra does an exceptional job in carrying the story with his performance. He is by far the stand out presence within the picture, which, of course, is all you can ask of a lead! Not forgetting, of course, the fact of Bruce Springsteen’s music almost feeling like a character in and of itself. At time the lyrics and melodies of his songs say more in a few succinct phrases what the script tries to in pages and pages. This is great for the emotion of the connection between Javed and his passion, but arguably not so great in the context of the wider strength of the film.
Overall, Blinded By The Light is a curious and quirky story that, whilst not hitting every note perfectly, is a musical dramedy that ticks all of the boxes that this type of film usually needs to pass as good. The ‘true story’ magic dust is something that certainly elevates it, and although there are certainly areas that could have been better presented, better executed or altogether better though out, I can’t sit here and say that I didn’t have a good couple of hours. More melancholy and gritty than your average ‘feel good’ movie, but still one of the more interesting and original music related films you’ll see of late.