When I was in the tenth grade, I fell a little in love with Lisa Loeb. I stole her CDs from my mom and I listened to them constantly. I wanted glasses like hers and to play songs on the guitar like her. Eventually, I got the glasses, but the talent at the guitar was harder to come by. I think a lot of us know this feeling of falling in love with a musician or a band and feeling like their lyrics really speak to us. Only they understand how we really feel! Blinded By the Light takes that feeling and uses it as the cornerstone for a beautiful story about race, class, family, and daring to chase a dream.
Set in a working-class town in England in 1987, Blinded by the Light is the story of Javed (Viveik Kalra), the son of Pakistani immigrants Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) and Noor (Meera Ganatra). When his father is laid off from his job at an automobile factory, the whole family is under additional stress, made worse by the growing white nationalist sentiments in their town, trying to push Muslim immigrants out. Meanwhile, Javed is also concerned with more teenage concerns like getting a girlfriend–maybe the pretty and political Eliza (Nell Williams)–and writing lyrics for his best friend Matt’s (Dean-Charles Chapman) band. When his classmate Roops (Aaron Phagura) introduces Javed to the music of Bruce Springsteen, it changes his life, inspiring him to pursue his dream of being a writer, even if it conflicts with his father’s expectations of him. With the help of his sister, Shazia (Nikita Mehta), and his teacher Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell), Javed follows his ambition…all the way to New Jersey.
This fun little film has both heart and heft. At its core, the story is about a young man finding his own voice and striking a balance between being who he wants to be and staying in touch with his roots. The story also layers in issues around class, race, and religion that both give the movie a really strong historical context and also a timely message. The writers achieve this with a light touch, presenting real and difficult issues without pretending like the music of Bruce Springsteen will fix everything.
The story is also punctuated with musical scenes using Springsteen’s music. Although these moments are meant to add to the fun of the film, they do not always achieve that purpose. The best use of song comes when Javed serenades Eliza with “Thunder Road” at an outdoor market, charming her and everyone else around. Other moments, however, look more like music videos than a movie musical and, although they convey how Javed is feeling, they did not always hold my attention. In an otherwise great film, the musical scenes are the weakest part.
The acting in the film is strong, particularly the lead performance by Viveik Kalra who gives Javed a lot of sweetness, but also enough grit to stand up for himself. Kalra has wonderful chemistry with Nell Williams and Aaron Phagura and watching their relationships blossom is fun. The arch of Javed’s parents is the most predictable element of the story, but Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra ground their characters and give them an emotional authority important to Javed’s development.
Although I think the story was often missing some connective parts, making me suspect that scenes I really wanted to see ended up on the cutting room floor, this story is well told and beautifully acted. I really enjoyed Blinded By the Light and rate it 4 of 5 stars.
Blinded by the Light was directed by Gurinder Chadha, who wrote the film along with Paul Mayeda Berges and Sarfaz Manzoor. It runs just shy of two hours and is rated PG-13 for thematic material and language including some ethnic slurs.