LAAPFF Review: ‘Blinded by the Light’ (2019), dir. Gurinder Chadha
The film follows British Pakistani teenager Javed (Viveik Kalra), an optimistic kid who wants to become a writer—much to the disappointment of his traditional immigrant family. Set during the Thatcher years of Great Britain, Javed feels trapped: stuck in his dead-end tiny town of Luton, England, pressured by his family to give up his dream of writing, and frustrated at his lack of freedom as a teenager. But that anxiety soon leads to a curious fascination for the music of Bruce Springsteen. After being given a copy of Born to Run by his eventual best friend Roops (Aaron Phagura), Javed unexpectedly makes Springsteen his newest obsession. Based on the true coming-of-age story of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, Blinded by the Light navigates 1980s Thatcherite Britain under a rarely combined dual musical and immigrant lens.
Anchored by a strong debut from the affable Viveik Kalra, Blinded by the Light is a story that perfectly encapsulates the extent of which music can enhance our lives. Although it’s a film that is derived from true events, the premise alone makes it a fun watch even for those unfamiliar with the backdrop of 80s Britain. The film revels in its soundtrack and has fun with it, leading to wholesome dance numbers and sing-along sections of the film that could quite easily double as lyric videos. Writers Manzoor, Chadha, and Paul Mayeda Berges take great care not to alienate their viewers by making the story as universal as possible. Springsteen’s original songs also work fabulously at dictating the emotions that are being felt on-screen. His quintessentially all-American lyrics are given a new context when it’s being framed by young hope and immigrant dreams.
But special attention is also placed on the discrimination that Javed’s family has to face—although they’re resolved rather quickly in the grander scheme of things. While it’s true that the film definitely seeks to entertain, that overtly happy-go-lucky attitude downplays some very real struggles that people had to face back in the day. There’s no real gravity to the threats that are shown in the film—the film quickly refocuses back onto Springsteen after most instances (seeming to imply that Springsteen can even drown out immigrant issues). It’s a given that the film isn’t primarily about these issues (it is, after all, about a young man’s obsession with his musical idol), but the fact that they’re included in the first place might require a little bit more attention than just a casual mention.
However, even with these dark moments, Blinded by the Light remains a must-watch for any music lover and Springsteen fans everywhere. After all, Springsteen even gave the film his stamp of approval… and as we all know, “The Boss” is never wrong.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Li-Wei Chu is a recent graduate from UC Davis who majored in Cinema and Digital Media who also briefly studied film at Queen Mary, University of London. Li-Wei is obsessed with horror films (especially the ones that give him nightmares), films from East Asia, and really, any film that makes you stop and think.
He loves talking about film and indie music with others. He’s also a record collector and cross-stitches when he has free time. In the future, he hopes to be able to write about film and wants to find a job in the film industry that can support his record buying habits. Maybe one day he’ll also be able to play the guitar.