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At some point in everyone’s life, the power of music starts to unlock the doors to the universe. An artist, an album, or even just a song comes along that seems to explain everything we’re going through at a moment in our lives, and everything changes from that point on.
Gurinder Chadha's Blinded By The Light is, in essence a film about that moment. In this case it’s the music of Bruce Springsteen that makes all the difference, and it’s the story of author/co-writer Sarfraz Manzoor’s fandom that provides the narrative. The resulting movie is one of the best that’s been released in 2019, as it possesses a huge beating heart, and plenty of charm.
Blinded By The Light follows young Javed (Viveik Kalra), a boy growing up in a suburb outside of London with dreams of being a writer. Unfortunately, his parents stifles his efforts to achieve that dream, and the socio-political environment of 1987 doesn't make anything easy for Pakistani immigrants and their families. It isn’t until a new friend (Aaron Phagura) exposes Javed to the music of Bruce Springsteen that he sees life’s possibilities, and starts to fight to achieve his goals.
Director Gurinder Chadha is no stranger to the sort of story that Blinded By The Light is telling, as her previous massive hit Bend It Like Beckham told a very similar tale almost two decades ago - albeit with soccer as the central focus instead of music. The big difference between this more recent film and its spiritual predecessor is that there’s a stronger social bent this time around.
Instead of just focusing on the familial turmoil that Javed is having with his family over his new found loves of Springsteen and writing, Blinded By The Light sets his story against the political context of Thatcher-era England. This means that sometimes the threats to Javed’s happiness come from a much more hateful place.
Those moments don’t override the sweetness and sheer joy that Blinded By The Light engages in, but it does temper the entire film as it anchors the plot in a very realistic time and place that has its own links to the socio-political turmoil of the modern world.
Rather than wallow in the real world’s problems, though, Javed’s tale is proposed as an antidote to everything that’s going on in the world, and the film succeeds in that aim. It’s what makes Blinded By The Light an earnestly good time, as the film plants itself in the reality of what transpired in that given era, but doesn’t sacrifice the emotional connection to its characters by getting lost in it.
Segments of Blinded By The Light move into full-on musical splendor, as songs like “Promised Land,” “Thunder Road,” and “Born To Run” are used to execute show-stopping numbers that help blur the line between the music based segments and the more dramatic/grounded parts of the film. Not to mention, in crucial moments of Javed’s journey to his dreams the lyrics to some of those songs are projected onto the screen in a heightened version of reality, highlighting what exactly is going on.
Touches like that make Blinded By The Light an entertaining showcase of humanity, with an amazing central performance by Viveik Kalra, who shines brightly as the film’s lead. Both his friendship with Aaron Phagura’s Roops, and his developing romance with Nell Williams’ Eliza root themselves in the effect that Bruce Springsteen’s music is having on Kalra’s Javed, and it only strengthen’s the movie’s emotional core during the good and bad times in our young protagonist’s life.
Interestingly enough, the film does one more thing really well: it provides a wonderful cinematic spotlight for the music and career of Bruce Springsteen through the eyes of a true fan. That’s something more valuable than even the best biopic, and it’s part of what makes this story such a genuine joy.
Blinded By The Light grabs you with its depth and unbridled emotion and never lets go. The world needs this movie, and whether you’re a fan of deeply personal stories of triumph, or just the Springsteen discography, you’ll be absolutely stunned by what this film has to offer.