Blinded by the Light presents a rich opportunity: acclaimed director Gurinder Chadha returns to cinemas with another tale of culture clash in the UK, this time touching on Thatcherism, racism, terrible New Wave hairdos, and powered along by the engine of Bruce Springsteen’s music. Unfortunately, the film’s territory seems cautiously chartered, with a sprawling, undisciplined screenplay that allows its characters to get stuck in repetitive arguments and scenes.
Viveik Kalra is earnest as 16 year-old (*cough cough*) Javed, struggling to cope with the unforgiving nature of Luton in 1987 – a breeding ground for National Front sentiment – and his strict Pakistani father (Kulvinder Ghir). Feeling trapped and hopeless, unlikely salvation comes to him in the form of upbeat new friend Roops (Aaron Phagura), who introduces Javed to the Boss and the blistering messages of his songs.
The film’s not quite as incisive as hoped, however, with predictable and lightly-sketched characters – the supportive teacher, the kooky and rebellious love interest, the traditional father, the enigmatic neighbour, etc. But the inspiration Javed finds in Springsteen is a joy to behold – it’s also especially touching as a true story, providing the film with its heart as the sympathetic tale of an outsider who finds his voice represented in the last place he expected.
A talented cast adds polish, with Ghir, in particular, providing emotional heft when the comedy falls flat or the story stutters. There are also some painfully good cameos from Sally Phillips and Marcus Brigstocke as the middle-class white people of Luton.
Blinded by the Light has fun with the ’80s, lovingly pastiching its fads and fashions, as well as depicting the straightforward – if shameful – reality of being an immigrant. If the film doesn’t quite do justice to its inspiration, you’ll at least gain a whole new appreciation for Springsteen’s dynamic music.
CAST: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Aaron Phagura, Nell Williams, Dean-Charles Chapman, Hayley Atwell, Nikita Mehta, Meera Ganatra, Rob Brydon, Tara Divina
DIRECTOR: Gurinder Chadha
WRITERS: Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha, Sarfraz Manzoor (screenplay); Bruce Springsteen (inspired by the words and music by)
SYNOPSIS: In 1987 during the austere days of Thatcher’s Britain, a teenager learns to live life, understand his family and find his own voice through the music of Bruce Springsteen.