BLINDED BY THE LIGHT
I am not the biggest Bruce Springsteen fan, and to be frank I know more than a few people who find him uninteresting. He does have his passionate fans who think him a modern-day Bard, so perhaps one's enjoyment of Blinded by the Light may depend on the level of love one has for The Boss. The film has been hailed as a delightful romp. I found it apart from its charming lead a very eye-rolling experience, full of cliches and more groan-inducing than heartwarming.
Javed Khan (Viviek Kalra) is a young Pakistani-Briton living in the dark days of Margaret Thatcher's Britain. It is 1987 and Javed yearns to leave his town of Lufton for the bright lights of, well, anywhere else. An aspiring writer, he chronicles his world in endless journals and poetry bemoaning that Thatcher, Reagan or nuclear weapons exist, as each is the source of all evil in the world.
Oddly, Javed's poetry and lyrics reflecting his woke worldview don't mesh well with his BFF Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), who thinks 'synths are the future' and who aspires to be part of the New Wave in the a-ha/A Flock of Seagulls/Pet Shop Boys mold. Javed also faces hardship from his immigrant father Malek (Kulvinder Ghir), who wants his only son to put away dreams of writing to something more sensible. "Keep away from the girls and follow the Jews!" is his advise.
Isolated, he finds an unlikely ally in Roops (Aaron Phagura), a Sikh who has a great passion: an American singer/songwriter named Bruce Springsteen. After a particularly frustrating night Javed pops in Roops' borrowed cassettes and he has a revelation with Dancing in the Dark and The Promised Land.
Bruce Springsteen, this working-class American from New Jersey, literally 'sings his life' (a little Morrissey dig there). With the Sage of Asbury Park as his guru, Javed now can overcome the objections of his traditional family to be among the literary giants. He can also get the girl, the pretty political firebrand Eliza (Nell Williams). However, there are still racists to fight, parents to educate and a journey to New Jersey to worship at the High Temple of Bruce before Javed sees that maybe his father is more complex than he first thought.
Up to a point I can understand, even empathize, with Javed. We're both children of immigrants who struggle between honoring them and pushing away from their old world views to our own thinking. We also have perhaps quoted singers almost as Holy Scripture (mine being Moz). However, unlike Blinded by the Light's Javed, I was never so doctrinaire that I actually substituted Morrissey's musings for esoteric wisdom, let alone look down on those who did not worship The Pope of Mope.
I'm puzzled as to why Javed is being embraced as some kind of wonderful person given that Blinded by the Light showcases him as a near-total jerk. When he tells Roops about Eliza, Roops' first question is "Does she like Bruce?", to which Javed responds that she doesn't yet but is working on it.
This sounds more like a cult than music appreciation.
At another point he ridicules Matt's musical tastes with a little help from Matt's father and very belatedly seems to feel even a twinge of remorse for humiliating the only person who pre-Bruce showed him genuine kindness and affection. Worse, as much as Blinded by the Light wants me to side with Javed over Matt, Malik and the Khans in general, I kept siding with them over him.
I sided against Javed and Roops when they broke into the school studio and played Born to Run over the loudspeaker, making their lack of punishment for this vandalism almost obscene. I sided against Javed when he openly mocked Matt's musical dreams and tastes. I sided against Javed at a climatic moment when he confronts his father.
After Mr. Khan survives an assault on their way to one of Javed's sister's wedding, Javed reproaches his father for his lack of understanding about Javed's dreams and wishes. He pulls out two tickets to an upcoming Springsteen concert for which he paid £40. The film obviously wants me to rally to Javed, to see this as a strike for his own independence and individuality against the stifling world of Lufton and the Khan home.
However, as directed by co-screenwriter Gurinder Chadra, Mr. Khan ends up looking right and Javed wrong. Mr. Khan has just survived getting punched in the face by skinheads. He has come back from a wedding that must have cost a lot of money, especially given that he is unemployed and has been unsuccessful in finding a job. They are in deep financial crisis and here is his son, telling him that not only has he gotten paid for his writing (contrary to what Javed had told them) but that he used his pay, all £40 pounds, for two tickets to a show Mr. Khan will not let his still-17 year old go to.
As if all that was not bad enough, if you didn't see what would ultimately end up happening to the tickets then you have never seen a movie before.
Blinded by the Light is hopelessly and unbearably cliche in how it treats situations and people. It has no sense of subtlety or restraint that it becomes maddening. When, for example, Javed goes to Eliza's house for dinner, her parents are portrayed in such a cartoonish fashion for a moment I thought her father was Basil Fawlty. We had Javed's writing teacher Miss Clay (Hayley Atwell), who was equally ridiculous.
She was ridiculous in her irrelevant Thatcher-bashing, throwing it out there that "Thanks to Maggie Thatcher there won't be enough jobs" when first meeting her students. She was also ridiculous in her ebullient praise of Javed's poetry. I think Rabindranath Tagore got less praise for his poetry than Javed Khan did. The film pushes this great idea that Javed is some kind of literary revelation but to be honest I don't think we got to see or read much if any of his own writings. It makes it hard to accept this endless parade of praise for Javed being the new Voice of His Generation if we keep substituting Springsteen's voice for his own.
As Blinded by the Light is pretty cliched and unoriginal most of the performances were too. Williams' Eliza was not exactly a Manic Pixie Dream Girl but she was close, her only real defining characteristic being her almost insufferable political lecturing. Chapman's Matt was pretty much forgotten for long stretches where he could have been written out. I thought well of Ghir as Mr. Malek, but thought that the 'pig-headed immigrant father' bit has been done before. I had flashbacks to East is East, or at least what little I can remember of it, while watching Blinded by the Light.
The film's only saving grace is Viviek Kalra as Javed. He has not only a delightful face but a great range, playing Javed's discovery of the miracle that is Darkness on the Edge of Town with the same conviction with which he speaks to an assembly about recognizing his own father and Bruce's father weren't that much different. Whether delighting in the freedom of Born to Run or seeing his younger sister find her own free space Kalra was excellent.
The music is good. I like but don't love Springsteen and only now realize he co-wrote Because the Night, which I associate more with Patti Smith and 10,000 Maniacs. Ultimately, with apologies to Bruce, a more accurate title should be Blanded by the Light.