Sunday, 8 September 2019

Blinded by the Light ★★★★★

As someone with a real passion for music, I have always loved films that portray the true power of it. Films like Sing Street, Begin Again and Once, for example (and ironically all directed by John Carney), have always spoken to me. I can relate to characters whose lives are transformed by music and are inspired to be their best selves. Sure, these films can be a little heavy-handed at times and rammed full of cliché, but it’s always been a subgenre that I’ve had a huge place in my heart for. So, when Blinded by the Light was announced, I was excited!

Directed by Bend It Like Beckham’s Gurinder Chadha, this feel-good true story based on the memoir Greetings from Bury Park by Sarfraz Manzoor follows a Brit-Pakistani teenager growing up in 1980s England whose life is transformed by the music of Bruce Springsteen. Javed (Viveik Kalra) dreams of finding out what life is like beyond the trappings of his hometown of Luton, England. As a budding poet, Javed is frustrated by his tradition-bound parents who aggressively push for him to pursue a ‘real job’. After his friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) introduces him to the music of Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen, Javed finally feels like someone understands him and is inspired to stand up for himself and fight for his dreams.

Director Gurinder Chadha is no stranger to the concept of tradition vs. personal fulfilment, so it is clear from Blinded by the Light that it is a subject she is passionate about. These complex themes are portrayed powerfully and yet handled in an accessible way that doesn’t bog the feel-good film down into misery. Despite the battles Javed must fight with his family and with the era in which he lives (white nationalists and hate serve as the primary antagonist), the film is still an uplifting and heartwarming comedy at its core. That’s not to say the scenes of drama don’t resonate and hit home, but the film is more concerned with the joy and the personal story of Javed’s self-discovery than viscerally portraying the racism and battles he must endure.

Crucially, this is a music film – and thankfully, Springsteen gave his permission for his music to be used. And so, if you’re a Springsteen fan, you’ll be delighted to know that this film is absolutely rammed with his hits that are used in effective and powerful ways – eg. Javed’s rage during a storm listening to “The Promised Land”. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Bruce film without “Born to Run” – easily the most crowd-pleasing scene of the film, as Javed and his friends run through the town having joyously discovered their identities. The performances are stunning across the board – Viveik Kalra’s performance as Javed is wonderful, while his powerful chemistry with Kulvinder Ghir playing his father is heartbreaking and, by the end of the film, heartwarming.

Anyone who has ever discovered music that has spoken to them will related to this charming film. And I think that’s all of us. We’ve all found comfort in times of struggle through the gift of music, and we’ve all been inspired by our favourite songs to stand up and pursue something. This universal theme makes the film a true crowd-pleaser in every sense of the word, and one that could easily be one of the next big hits for Brit cinema. I absolutely adored this wonderful little charmer, and I’m confident you will too.

Sam Love

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