Steve Wildsmith has always taken great delight in questioning my tastes. Take Bruce Springsteen, for instance. I’ve never been a fan, and Steve just couldn’t understand why I didn’t like “the Boss.” Luckily, Steve and I have very similar tastes, so I don’t give him too many opportunities to judge me. (It’s rather entertaining, though, when I misquote one of his favorite movies, “Tombstone.”)
Despite my apathy for Springsteen, I thought “Blinded By the Light” looked absolutely delightful. It’s the latest film from “Bend It Like Beckham” director Gurinder Chadha, and it’s the coming-of-age story of a young Pakistani teen growing up in Britain in the 1980s.
Javed (Viveik Kaira) is an awkward 16-year-old who dreams of leaving the confines of Luton where he lives. He’s loved writing since he was little, and he’s hungrily written poems and filled diaries since his youth. His friend, Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), has a band, and Javed even writes lyrics sometimes, although they aren’t very good. It’s 1987, and Matt’s band is the very epitome of ’80s style. It’s fluffy hair, synthesized music and flashy patterns. Javed and Matt have basically nothing in common, but their friendship isn’t based on common interests but something much more important: kinship.
Javed is a loner and doesn’t really have friends beyond Matt. He’s never had a girlfriend, either. That’s not helped by the fact Luton isn’t a welcoming place if you’re Pakistani. Javed can’t even walk down the street without taunts or spit — literally — being hurled at him. Graffiti slurs are painted on the walls he passes, and there’s an “anti-Paki” sentiment throughout the city. It makes Javed’s struggle through life even more difficult.
You see, he doesn’t connect with his family, especially his very traditional father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir). His English teacher, Miss Clay (Hayley Atwell) wants him to follow his dreams, while Malik wants him to follow in his footsteps and do what’s best for the family. When Malik loses his job, he puts even more pressure on Javed. Luckily for Javed, he makes friends with a boy at school, Roops (Aaron Phagura), who introduces him to Springsteen’s music and changes his life.
I said before that I wasn’t a Springsteen fan, but watching Javed discover his music is absolutely electric. It’s breathtaking and powerful. What could be a cheesy scene is instead a thing of beauty as Javed listens to “The Promised Land,” and its lyrics are displayed in the air around his head and on the buildings he passes. These lyrics aren’t just words to a song. They are physically manifested into the real world, becoming his raison d’être.
The more Javed listens to Springsteen the more confident he becomes. He’s not only dreaming. He’s trying to make them come true. He even gets his first girlfriend, Eliza (Nell Williams). As Javed, Eliza and Roops listen to Springsteen’s songs, they give their lives meaning, providing an expression of both their current existence and the potential, good or bad, for what lies ahead in the future.
Kaira is a delight to watch. The entire film is, to be honest. Normally when I’m writing a review, I can always find a couple of things that I believe need to be tweaked or adjusted, but “Blinded By the Light” has me struggling to find things that could be improved upon. (Well, Atwell’s wig is atrocious, but that’s a matter of budget that can be overlooked.)
“Blinded By the Light” manages to connect on a lot of different levels. Javed’s story is one we can all relate to on some level. Maybe an overprotective parent who doesn’t understand us, a hometown we can’t wait to leave, or even just wondering “Is this it?” It’s a story of dreams, goals and the steps we’ll take to achieve them.
Javed has pressure on all sides. His family wants one thing. His teacher believes he should do another. Even his friends have their own agendas for him. But, Javed has to decide his own path and figure out who he is. It’s not the guy Matt’s grown up with, and it’s not the boy his family raised. Maybe it’s not even the friend Roops and Eliza have come to know.
It’s a story of self-discovery set to the most honest backdrop there is: music. I was worried Springsteen’s catalog would be too heavy or overpower the story. Javed needed to be the core focus, after all. But, song after song, the music continued to be the soundtrack of the movie rather than become one of the main characters. Even when Javed would begin singing aloud or burst into song in the middle of a crowd, the music continues to be a nice cameo that adds to the moment but never steals Javed’s spotlight.