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Aug 15 2019

Review: Blinded By The Light

byChris Feil

Bend It Like Beckhamdirector Gurinder Chadha brings us another earnest and heartwarming delight withBlinded By The Light,a true story of a Pakistani teenager transported out of his British suburb by the music of Bruce Springsteen.Javed (played by charming newcomer Viveik Kalra) is an outsider inside and outside his home: he can't abide his father's rigid cultural expectations and struggles to be taken seriously as writer in a white-dominated community.But the film also speaks to the political and economic concerns of its time period,depicting a lower-middle class world oppressed by Thatcher and the ensuing racist resurgence and capitalistic dominance.

If you expect a coming-of-age period musical fable in the vein ofSing Street,you aren't far off base.Blindedfollows a familiar formula,yet doesn't rely on its music to tell its emotional story.The film is essentially a traditional father-son story of intergenerational divides but set opposite economic depression and social change,with all of its teenage romance and creative dreams unfolding almost exactly as we expect.But what matters and what captures our emotions is Javed's context.

The idea is that Javed and Springsteen's identities,with the music bestowed upon Javed by his enthusiastic new friend Roops (Aaron Phagura),is that they couldn't be more apart on the surface.Springsteen was small town American and spoke to those concerns,Javed is among the first Muslim families in his community.Luckily the film only allows so much room for that to be a reductive talking point.Instead,Javed connects to the message of The Boss' music behind the circumstance and finds inspiration for his own writing.

Surprisingly,the film trips on its own musicality.There isn't much of a consistent through-line with how Chadha captures song,vacillating between sputtering fantasy and the sometimes rote isolation of Javed's headphones.While some of the Springsteen cues are exciting,the worst of them come with the uninspired motif of scripted lyrics floating around Javed's body like a PowerPoint projection.The songs and Kalra's performance already do the heavy lifting to show Javed's connection to the music that such a hokey,recurring presentation becomes the film's biggest miscalculation of what it does well.Sometimes,the film is[ahem]dancing in the dark.

While the film's musical sequences suffer from overreaching,the film luckily doesn't overplay its hand in making Javed's story a timely one.Whereas the lyric subtitles are an aesthetic choice that doesn't trust the audience to feel Javed's connection to the words of Springsteen,Chadha does trust the audience to see contemporary white supremacy in those who oppressed Javed thirty years ago.And,wisely,their occasional hypocrisy in embracing artistic work that condemns them.

What's perhaps most musically striking about the film is how its Springsteen skepticism is baked into its narrative.Javed comes to the Springsteen songbook well after the artist had met his hipness expiration date,firmly taking up space on the mantel of Music For Your Dad.But Springsteen is even further cemented into such status,far outside of the nostalgia zeitgeist that now uses music of his time in movies and television for either irony or camp.Take it from this former Springsteen-allergic: the movie might work best for those it wins over on his tunes.

And as the film's true central conflict reminds us,Springsteen isn't the music of Javed's father.Also gifted with lovely performances by Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra as Javed's parents,Blindedis overly tidy (and sometimes messy) in presenting tropes of children with dreams and parents with demands.But its emotional well runs deep and it thankfully it operates against a different sociopolitical backdrop than these cozy movies tend to have.At the end of a flat and underwhelming summer movie season,Blinded By The Lightsoothes as it satisfies.


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Reader Comments (1)

Whatever Gurinder Chadha is up to I wish her success.She is a human dynamo.I was so impressed with Bend it like Beckham (which still stands the test of time) that I have pulled for her ever since.Some of her films are uneven,but they all have so much heart.
Also they are about the Pakistani cultural experience that is totally new to me,and paid little attention to by mainstream culture.
So,as a Springsteen fan,and a Chadha fan,I hope this little film becomes an indie hit.

August 15,2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

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