Following on from Danny Boyle’s Beatles-influenced Yesterday and the Elton John biopic Rocketman, a third entrant in the British-made rock music-inspired semi-musical genre takes shape in the form of Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded by the Light, a jukebox rock dramedy that springboards off the back catalogue of “The Boss”, Bruce Springsteen.
Setting itself in 1987 Luton, a small English town, a time when PM Margaret Thatcher’s policies stirred unrest among the working class as unemployment ran rampant, Blinded by the Light places its focus on 16-year-old Javed (the immensely likeable Viveik Kalra), an aspiring writer who yearns to escape the mundane mentality of his home town and the stifling rules of his traditional Pakistani household. Keeping his aspirations to himself so as to not upset his stubborn, domineering father (Kulvinder Ghir), Javed’s stuck in both a creative and personal rut, seemingly unable to find himself at school surrounded by the “WHAM! boy and Bananarama girls”.
Hoping to find a reprieve from the tribulations of his home-life, where his father has been laid off and his mother (Meera Ganatra, a lovely performance) has taken on extra work as a seamstress to make ends meet, Javed’s creative outlet is fuelled thanks to his introduction to Bruce Springsteen, whose lyrics offer a “direct line to all that’s true in this shitty world”. Springsteen’s songs strike a chord with the young teen, his lyrics relating to being stuck in a small town resonating with the hopeful Javed who yearns to be so much bigger than what his home dictates.
Whilst the film adheres to the formulaic set pieces one would expect from these hopeful tales – Javed rebelling against his traditionalist parents, the unlikely romance between him and the out-of-his-league classmate (Nell Williams), the teacher (Hayley Atwell) encouraging him to reach his full potential – Blinded by the Light is never without its joyous charms – the way the film manages to stage full musical numbers without succumbing to the expected tropes of the genre is a real treat – nor is it afraid to gage political topics; the strain of being an immigrant is addressed in a subtle manner that both weaves suitably to the film’s 1980’s setting whilst maintaining a sense of contemporary relevance.
As deep as the film wishes to get, Blinded by the Light is ultimately a feel-good film experience, one inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor (who co-wrote the screenplay with Chadha and her husband, Paul Mayeda Berges) and his own childhood love of Springsteen’s music. Yes, this is a “message movie” about following your heart, never giving up, and just how transformative art can be to the individual consumer, but it’s an honest feature all the same, one that owns its cheesy enthusiasm and wears it with pride.