Review: Blinded By The Light

Poster for Blinded By The Light featuring Viveik Kalra.

***½

The best music has always held the power to cross a multitude of boundaries, transcending time, space, and personal situation. In this way, the words of one man in New Jersey can radically alter the life of a Bedfordshire teenager many miles away. It is this power that takes centre stage in the latest comedy-drama from British writer-director Gurinder Chadha.

Named after the Bruce Springsteen song, Blinded By The Light tells the story of Javid Khan (Viveik Kalra), a Muslim teenager growing up in 80’s Luton with dreams of becoming a writer. He lacks self-confidence, is growing apart from his white best friend, and his father wants him to focus on getting a ‘real’ job as a doctor or lawyer – after all, what is a poor Pakistani kid doing writing poetry anyway? Besides, Javid can’t even manage to come up with some lyrics for wannabe pop singer Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), the aforementioned white friend who has decided to pursue his passion in synth-pop. But when a chance encounter introduces Javid to the music of The Boss, something changes – and not just his wardrobe.

From the get-go, this is very much a Gurinder Chadha film, exploring themes of British Asian identity and family relationships with her usual warmth and humour. Her characters are likeable, if not particularly complex, and newcomer Kalra gives a very sympathetic lead performance in his first film role. As Javid’s dad Malik, Kulvinder Ghir brings depth and humour to a character that is behind much of the film’s conflict. Sure, the well-intentioned-but-overbearing-Asian-parent-who-learns-to-let-their-child-follow-their-dreams is a trope we’ve all seen before, but both writing and performance work together to ensure the character always feels real and fully fleshed-out. Honourable mentions on the performance front must go to Dean-Charles Chapman as charismatic wannabe popstar Matt, and Rob Brydon, who manages to be both memorable and funny in his few appearances as Matt’s dad.

The soundtrack is as brilliant as you’d expect from a film so intrinsically tied to the music of Bruce Springsteen, with hits like ‘Born To Run’ and ‘Dance In The Dark’ all making appearances. The criticism here is that these big musical moments don’t always feel earned – on a number of occasions, the loud, passionate music feels out of place in a scene where very little is happening on screen to justify it. The constant Springsteen references can feel similarly forced; the film’s emphasis on the relevance and relatability of his lyrics has the characters reciting lines from songs to each other, which feels awkward. When Javid listens to Springsteen’s music, the lyrics appear on-screen in a rather unsubtle way of pointing out how they relate to Javid’s life.

The plot is not overly original or surprising, but the goodwill generated by the sympathetic characters and the genuinely moving emotional moments ensure that for all its familiarity, Blinded By The Light always feels sincere. Fun but flawed, Chadha’s latest may not be her best, but it is nonetheless a worthwhile feel-good film that will stir the emotions and have Springsteen fans struggling not to sing along.

Blinded By The Light opens in UK cinemas on 9th August 2019.