Blinded by the Light (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): When he discovers Bruce Springsteen

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“Blinded by the Light” is a familiar but enjoyable feel-good movie driven by a number of songs from Bruce Springsteen. I must confess that I do not know much about the music of Springsteen besides his haunting Oscar-winning song for “Philadelphia” (1993), but the movie made me appreciate the emotional power of his several notable songs via good storytelling, and I came to smile and chuckle as appreciating its witty and lively coming-of-age tale.

Set in the town of Luton in Britain, 1987, the movie, which is loosely based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir “Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll”, tells the story of Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra), a British-Pakistani Muslim teenager boy who has been quite unhappy and frustrated with being stuck in Luton for many years. Although a new semester begins in his high school, nothing much is changed in his daily life with his family, and it seems he will never get an opportunity for getting out of Luton. Often occupied with writing in his small room, he wants to pursue writing career someday, but that is not exactly what his headstrong father expects from him.

And then there come several significant changes to him. In a writing class at his high school, his teacher Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell) pays more attention to him after noticing his considerable talent and aspiration, and she is certainly interested in evaluating and nurturing more of his talent. In addition, Javed finds himself quite attracted to a plucky female student named Eliza (Nell Williams), but he does not know how to approach closer to her even though it is apparent that the feeling is mutual between them.

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Meanwhile, Javed comes to have a new friend at his high school after an accidental encounter between them. As a fellow minority student, Roops (Aaron Phagura), who is from a Sikh Indian family, instantly sees that Javed needs to get out of his awkward and miserable status, so he gives Javed a couple of cassette albums by Springsteen. Although he is not particularly interested in Springsteen because, as pointed out at one point, Springsteen was not particularly popular in Britain during that time in Britain, Javed later happens to listen to one of these two cassette albums, and, what do you know, he is caught off guard by how much Springsteen’s songs resonate with his current life and emotional status in many aspects. As listening more and more to Springsteen’s songs, he becomes quite obsessed with everything about Springsteen, and, to be frank with you, that reminds me of how much I was enthusiastic about those great movie scores by Jerry Goldsmith when I was young and wild (I still keep many of the CD copies of his score albums I collected during that time, by the way).

As sharing more enthusiasm on Springsteen’s songs with Roops, Javed becomes more confident about himself while also coming closer to Eliza, and the movie accordingly gives us a number of vibrant scenes accompanied with Springsteen’s songs. While “Born to Run” is the most prominent one, several other songs including “Badlands”, “Thunder Road”, “Hungry Heart”, and, yes, “Blinded by the Light” are effectively used throughout the film, and the movie goes further with them as rolling into a few delightful musical moments along with its young hero and his two new friends.

Of course, this buoyant mood is soon contrasted with the domestic matters in Javed’s family home. Due to the ongoing economic recession, Javed’s father gets laid off even though he has diligently worked in his workplace for more than 15 years, and that puts more pressure on his wife, who has also worked hard as a seamstress but now has to work much more as being the sole breadwinner of the family at present. Furthermore, they and their children become more aware of the racism in their neighborhood, which becomes more prevalent than before as reflected by a key dramatic scene later in the story.

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While we can clearly see from the beginning where its story and characters are heading, the movie smoothly rolls from one episodic moment to another as balancing itself well between humor and poignancy under the competent direction of director/co-writer Gurinder Chadha, who also adapted Manzoor’s memoir along with Manzoor and her longtime collaborator Paul Mayeda Berges. Like her previous film “Bend It Like Beckham” (2002), the movie works as a sweet and intimate comedy drama revolving around race, culture, and generation gap, and I appreciate how thoughtfully it shows empathy and understanding toward all of its main characters including Javed’s father, who struggles to accept several other changes in his life besides his continuing unemployment.

Chadha draws solid performances from her main cast members. While Viveik Kalra, Nell Williams, and Aaron Phagura are commendable in their unadulterated acting, the other main cast members in the film including Hayley Atwell, Dean-Charles Chapman, Rob Brydon, Meera Ganatra, and Kulvinder Ghir are also fine in their respective roles, and Ghir is especially poignant during the expected moment of reconciliation and acceptance between his character and Javed.

In conclusion, “Blinded by the Light” is worthwhile to watch for several good reasons besides those wonderful songs by Springsteen, and you may find yourself considering checking them out after the movie is over. It may be pretty predictable, but it is equipped with enough heart and spirit, and I am willing to recommend it to you without hesitation.

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