Blinded by the Light Review

Everyone has that one movie, TV show, book, or album that came along at the perfect time in their life. Just when everything felt like it was crumbling around you, this incredible piece of art lifted you up to make everything seem like it might be all right. In the irresistible coming-of-age indie Blinded by the Light, this revelation comes to a teenage Pakistani boy named Javed (Viveik Kalra) when he needs it the most. Suffocated by a small town, forced into a career he doesn’t want, and harassed by Neo-Nazis, Javed suddenly finds inspiration in an unlikely hero: Bruce Springsteen.

Based on the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, who also co-wrote the film, Blinded by the Light takes us into the British town of Luton. Sitting 30 miles outside of London, it’s the kind of place where nothing happens. The only way to pass the time is sitting on a hillside as everyone else passes them by on the freeway to bigger and better things. But Javed has his own outlet to deal with the crushing lack of excitement. He writes poems that he stashes away in his desk and songs for his synth-obsessed, New Wave wannabe best friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman).

Of course, writing only goes so far for Javed, thanks to his father’s (Kulvinder Ghir) increasing pressure for him to pursue a career that actually pays well. That pressure only grows when his father gets laid off from the local factory, forcing Javed and his whole family to spend their spare time helping to provide for the family. It’s enough to make Javed throw all of his poems and songs out in the trash. But then The Boss comes along.

Thanks to a tape graciously handed down by fellow Pakistani classmate Roops (Aaron Phagura), Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” flows into the ears of Javed, the lyrics floating in the air around him like a message from above. The music of this working class sage from New Jersey is enough to reinvigorate Javed’s passion for writing, and it also gives him a newfound confidence in facing each and every day. No matter how bad things get at home, no matter what some skinhead says on the street, Bruce is there to pick up the pieces. It just might be enough for Javed to face everything the world has to throw at him.

Feeling like a spiritual sister to fellow Sundance-selected film Sing Street, Blinded by the Light uses the power of music to give a struggling teenager hope. Even if you’re not a fan of Bruce Springsteen, you’ll find yourself singing along and tapping your toe to tunes like “Born to Run” and “The Promised Land,” especially when Javed starts joyously singing them out loud. There aren’t choreographed breakout sequences like Sing Street, so the energy isn’t quite as high or exhilarating, but that’s kind of the idea. These sequences are more grounded, like Springsteen himself, but the jubilation is still there, and it’s largely thanks to an outstanding breakthrough lead performance.

Blinded by the Light Review

Viveik Kalra is perfect as the timid Javed, who slowly gains a newfound hope and confidence when Bruce Springsteen changes his life. Kalra walks with swagger once he starts throwing on sleeveless flannels, bandana neck scarves and jean jackets, a drastic change from the uptight sweater and button down combination he was wearing to school. He gains even more self-assurance when he finally lands himself a girlfriend, a politically motivated firecracker named Eliza (Nell Williams), and the two bond over their love of Bruce and their united front against the racists in their town. In fact, it’s the recurring oppression and racism that makes the thematic elements of Blinded by the Light stand out from other similar coming-of-age indie gems.

Directed by Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham), this movie doesn’t shy away from the harsh prejudice that people of Pakistan had to face in the United Kingdom in the 1980s (and today). This allows Blinded by the Light to feel more significant when it comes to our character’s journey, especially in our current political climate in the United States. As Javed continues to be inspired by Bruce Springsteen, he starts to deny his cultural background and pull away from his family. But Chadha wants to show that it’s possible to march to the beat of your own drum without forgetting who you are. You can follow your dreams without driving away those you love.

Blinded by the Light takes you on a roller coaster of emotions. One minute you’re riding the wave of a breakout Springsteen singing session, and the next you find your heart punched by the realities of cultural confrontation, both in Javed’s house and out on the streets of Britain. And while you might not find yourself moved by Springsteen or persecuted for the color of your skin like Javed, this is still a universal tale of overcoming adversity and staying true to yourself. Everyone has their own Bruce Springsteen, and everyone has their own obstacles they helped you confront. And the uplifting and moving Blinded by the Light is likely to end up being the very piece of art that some struggling young kid out there needs to get by.

Blinded by the Light was picked up at the Sundance Film Festival by New Line, but it doesn’t have a release date yet.

/Film rating: 8.5 out of 10

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