In the latest 2019 film based on some famous songs by a specific artist, ‘Blinded by the Light’ puts the struggles of 1980’s racial tension against a Bruce Springsteen soundtrack. The result is as disorientating as you’d expect, and while it delivers a sweetly uplifting story, it suffers from too many clichés and a lack of clear intention.
The film is loosely based on the true life of Sarfraz Manzoor, the journalist who wrote a memoir about how the music of Bruce Springsteen got him through his tough teenage years growing up in Luton during Thatcher’s Britain. Javed is a Pakistani Muslim teenager born in Britain whose life changes after discovering the music of Springsteen. The music serves as a political metaphor for the racial tension and economic instability of the 1980’s, underscoring Javed’s attempts to balance his deeply traditional home life with his new-found rock and roll love.
Viveik Kalra stars as the lead role, with Nell Williams as Javed’s love interest Eliza, Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra as Javed’s parents, Aaron Phagura as Roops, Javed’s friend who introduces him to Springsteen, and Hayley Atwell as Javed’s teacher Ms Clay. Other cast members include Rob Brydon, Dead-Charles Chapman, Sally Phillips and a shocking but funny politically incorrect role from Marcus Brigstocke. All the cast are compelling to watch, specifically Kalra who totally holds the film together with a brave and emotional performance.
The film was directed by Gurinder Chadha (director of Bend It Like Beckham) and she brings her usual insight into exploring the lives of minorities living in England. Her direction throughout is strong, though sometimes it felt like she wasn’t 100% sure on what her film was going to be. At points, the music took over the film, and lyrics began appearing on screen while characters danced, but in other moments it was purely there for underscoring purposes. Unlike Rocketman, for example, this film lacked the conviction to be either a full musical or a standard drama, and at times it felt like a mild identity crisis as it tried to decide.
The film’s set design is something that should be highly praised for very authentically recreating the tone and setting of the 1980’s. A dull, pastille colour tone helped evoke the feelings of depression Britain was feeling, and this blended well with some interesting cinematography from Ben Smithard.
The main issue is that the story, while shocking, is one that has been told countless times before. A father and son struggling with balancing traditional values and moving into modern life, racial tension in the 1980’s, teenage love that can’t quite decide if it’s ready for commitment or not. While all the themes are still relevant today, they do feel slightly played out on the big screen, and when the film decides to run on for almost two hours despite not having enough substance, it did begin to drag.
Overall, Blinded by the Light is a perfectly serviceable upbeat comedy drama, but one that feels more worthy of a Sunday afternoon on Channel 4, rather than a commitment to leaving the house for the cinema.