The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:


A Dazzling Movie

Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen
New Line Cinema
 118 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed ByGurinder Chadha
Starring: Viveik Kaira, Kulvinder Ghir
Blinded by the Light

The new film Blinded by the Light, which takes its title and a great deal more from the Bruce Springsteen hit, combines a whole lot of familiar movie elements. There’s the love of young people for new musical sounds and a young man with a literary bent looking to find himself. And there’s the conflict between finding oneself and living up to parental expectations. And then there are economic hard times that grind down an unemployed working man who finds himself unable to adjust. And, finally, there is vicious racial prejudice against ethnic outsiders. But like haleem, a stew popular in Pakistan (which happens to be the homeland of the main characters in Blinded by the Light), the movie mixes those familiar ingredients with some flavorful spices, and the result is something both familiar and exotic. 


Blinded by the Light is a fictionalized version of a memoir written by Sarfraz Manzoor, a British journalist and documentarian who emigrated with his family to England from Pakistan in the late 1970s. Like his real-life counterpart, the fictional version of Manzoor, named Javed Khan (Viveik Kaira) becomes a fan of Bruce Springsteen after being introduced to the Boss’s music by a schoolmate, Roops (Aaron Phagura). The year is 1987, and labor unrest in Great Britain is high, as is unemployment. Javed’s father, Malik (Khulvinder Ghir), has high hopes for Javed to be a professional. But, after, Malik loses his job and can’t find another, the family has to subsist on what little Javed’s mother and sisters bring in at odd jobs.


Javed immediately becomes a Springsteen fan, feeling that the Boss’s lyrics speak to him personally. He’s got a considerable literary bent himself, writing lyrics for a school friend’s band and attracting the attention of his English teacher, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell), with his poetry. She encourages him to continue writing, leading to an unpaid position at a local newspaper. However, his father doesn’t approve of Javed’s writing in general or the fact that he isn’t making money in particular.


Eventually, Javed and his father clash on the day of his eldest sister’s wedding. Javed has finally made some money at the local newspaper, which he uses to buy tickets to see Springsteen perform at Wembley Stadium. While he is buying the tickets, however, his father and other members of the wedding party are accosted by a group of racist thugs who wind up beating Malik. When Javed returns home, his father tears up the tickets. To make matters worse, Javed eventually wins a writing competition for which first prize is a trip to Monmouth College in New Jersey. Javed is excited about the opportunity to go to Springsteen’s backyard, but his father threatens to disown him if he goes.


Blinded by the Light was directed and co-written by Gurinder Chadha, whose biggest previous hit, Bend It Like Beckham, also dealt with Middle Easterners living in Britain. However, Blinded by the Light focuses on a far less savory period of British history, one featuring virulent racism towards those derogatorily called “Pakis.” Javed isn’t just a typical alienated teen on the outs with parents who don’t understand him. Instead, it’s virtually the whole of English society at the time that doesn’t understand him. To make matters worse, his father’s attempts to keep the old-country traditions while pushing Javed to get ahead (a running joke involves Malik telling Javed to emulate the Jews) make Javed feel trapped in ways quite different from what happens in most movies.


Blinded by the Light feels like the filmed version of a memoir. There’s a lot of gaps in the storyline, and the plot is very episodic. That’s often a weakness in movies, but here, it’s a strength, simply because the individual scenes are so good. The film is filled with little moments that remain with audiences, like an elderly World War II veteran neighbor of Javed’s who lends encouragement at a couple of crucial moments in the movie. On a different note, there’s a scene in which Javed and one of his sisters go to a daytime dance party for Pakistani students, and Javed is amazed to learn about this particular rock subculture of which his sister is a big fan.


Of course, music plays a big part in Blinded by the Light, especially the Springsteen songs that make up a large part of the soundtrack. The overabundance of this music means that those who don’t care for Springsteen may not care too much for the selections (or the film in general), but Chadha goes beyond just playing the songs. She superimposes the lyrics in the background in crucial scenes, hinting at the power the music has for Javed as he listens on his portable tape player (this is the pre-CD 80s, after all). And there’s a joyous music video sequence featuring Javed, Roops, and Javed’s girlfriend Eliza (Nell Williams) running across campus to the accompaniment of, naturally, “Born to Run.” It’s a scene that contributes nothing to the movie plotwise but boosts the energy level considerably. The only similar sequence that comes to mind is the “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” montage in Footloose. 


Sometimes, critics damn films with faint praise by referring to them as “feel good,” but the expression really fits here. Blinded by the Light is an uplifting experience, buoyed by a mostly young, mostly unfamiliar cast (Hayley Atwell and Rob Brydon will be the only names many will recognize) that throw themselves wholeheartedly into the movie. The different geographic, historical, and ethnic context of the movie ensures that the elements that are familiar to audiences won’t feel stale here, and the emotions the film arouses are heartfelt and genuine. This summer has been chock full of CGI fakery and overall artificiality, so much so that, by the dog days of August, audiences are getting tired of it. Blinded by the Light manages to brighten up theatergoers’ day considerably.

In this featurette, director Gurinder Chadha and the cast talk about the movie.

Read other reviews of Blinded by the Light: 

Blinded by the Light (2019) on IMDb