FilmSpace: Blinded by the Light

Film critic Calum Cooper reviews the upcoming Blinded by the Light, a heartfelt film concerning music, family, and passion.

Blinded by the Light – ★★★★★

Music is one of the most powerful forms of art out there. Its ability to encapsulate meaning and raw emotions in the span of just a few minutes is as divine as it is accessible. Whether you’re into Mozart, The Beatles, N.W.A, or Rhianna, music is a universal language.

This is a lesson young Javed (Viveik Kalra) soon comes to discover. The year is 1987, at the height of Thatcherism. Javed and his family are residents of Luton, experiencing both economic and racial turmoil, being of Pakistani descent. Javed is a dedicated poet, using his writing as a form of escapism from the intolerance of his classmates and hometown, as well as the strict nature of his father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir). He fled Pakistan years ago to give his family a better life, yet wants his children, including Javed, to staunchly stick by tradition, so as not to become embroiled in British culture, which he considers regressive.

Javed vents via his poetry, but otherwise keeps himself bottled up. One day, a friend gives him mix tapes of Bruce Springsteen to listen to. In a phenomenal sequence in which the weather seems to parallel Springsteen’s lyrics as well as Javed’s plight, Javed falls madly in love with Springsteen’s songs. His words seem to perfectly capture the strife of Javed’s working class life, so much so that Javed suddenly discovers a new lust for life. He decides to buckle down with his writing, slowly building his confidence so that he can confront his dad, ask out his crush Eliza (Nell Williams), and just maybe find his voice in a world that wants it muted.

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I loved this film! It completely caught me off guard and overwhelmed me with its sheer humanity. Much like how Javed feels that Springsteen is speaking to him specifically, I felt like this film was speaking to me as well. Writer-director Gurinder Chadha has made something with the heart of Sing Street and the urgency of The Commitments, blending its vivacious soundtrack with genuine sentimentality and an abundance of optimism, one that stunned and amazed me.

Chadha was the sole director, but she co-wrote the script with her husband, Paul Mayeda Berges, and journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, of whose life the story is based on. He has made his admiration for Springsteen known, having seen him well over a hundred times, and the film utilises Springsteen’s music to full effect. You have your musical sequences in which songs play over moments of characters running through school hallways and Luton streets, but the songs and lyrics are deliberately chosen. Much like Rocketman earlier this year, the lyrics of pre-existing songs – should it be Thunder Road or Born in the USA – are used as gateways into the character’s deeper emotions. We bear witness to great and horrible things in Javed’s life, but we can feel the strife and awe he feels. But when a Springsteen song comes on, you feel like you’re there with him as he navigates his newly found confidence.

The visuals accompany this marvellously. Effervescent cinematography capture the scope of Javed’s rekindled passion, while deliberately amateurish choreography evokes that youthful belief that anything is possible. However, it’s also historically aware in its visuals. Underneath the juvenile ambition seems to be a deserving middle finger towards Thatcherism and fascism. It’s a cruel world – one that arguably still exists in 2019 – but the bleakness of earlier scenes, and later a particularly horrifying hate rally, contrast with the hope and humanity Javed finds in Springsteen’s lyrics. After all, nothing is more powerful than the right words strung together.

While music is integral to this film’s core, the film is a lot more layered than a mere musical experience. Its story may seem somewhat conventional, but the character work on display is tremendous. Whether it’s Javed’s Springsteen mentor Roops, his crush Eliza, his sister Shezia, his elderly neighbour, his best friend Matt, or his encouraging English teacher Ms Clay, everyone feels like a real person. Everyone has their own ambitions and stories, making the film’s world feel as alive as Javed’s inner turmoil.

It’s a cruel world – one that arguably still exists in 2019 – but the bleakness of earlier scenes, and later a particularly horrifying hate rally, contrast with the hope and humanity Javed finds in Springsteen’s lyrics. After all, nothing is more powerful than the right words strung together.

But the greatest character work comes from the love-hate dynamic between Javed and his father Malik. Javed is very much the hero of this story, but Chadha has a sophisticatedly even-handed approach to this relationship. Both father and son are as selfish at times, as they are sympathetic. Javed of course gets tonnes of powerful development, being the main character, but Malik gets just as good development, if not better. You don’t agree with a lot of what he says or does, but that doesn’t mean you don’t empathise. Through its condemnation of elitist attitudes and acts, the film does a spectacular job of showing how much pressure Malik is under with his job, his family, and the intolerance of racists. We understand his fears, and recognise how much he has had to sacrifice to give his family the life they have, however tough. The characters are written beautifully, creating an intricate relationship in which we feel the pain of father and son alike, with Kalra’s and Ghir’s brilliant performances playing off of each other effortlessly.

The film combines all of this to encapsulate what I think this film truly is – a love letter towards family. You should strive for your dreams, and the film encourages you to do so, but the fact of the matter is that no one is the person they are today without their parents to shape them, a notion the film champions. Tonally speaking, it’s very much a feel good film. It’s funny, it’s sincere, and it celebrates the uniqueness of the individual’s voice. But understanding your roots and the people who raised you is as much a concern for the film as literary ambition. In other words, the film argues that you need your past in order to effectively create your future. It all comes together in the concluding scenes, which got me right in the feels, particularly one line said by Malik which I believe wonderfully captures the point of the film.

Blinded by the Light dazzles as brightly as its title suggests. Eloquently written and vivaciously crafted, its sentiment and charm combines with its splendid and relatable characters to create a musical euphoria that’s hard not to succumb to. Some may find it corny, but I personally found it deeply resonant. I admire how much range and depth Chadha can bring to the table at her best, particularly as no two of her films are entirely alike (she also directed Bend it like Beckham and Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging after all). With Blinded by the Light, I believe she has created her finest outing to date. It hits cinemas 9 August, and I cannot encourage you to seek it out enough. Music and passion are universal concepts, and I believe Blinded by the Light to be just as universal in its capacity to delight.

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