Blinded by the Light

Posted by Abbie on August 17, 2019 under In Theatres Now

This movie was…okay. Growing up the daughter of a die hard Bruce Springsteen fan, I really wanted to like this film. And I did, for the most part. But I’m also glad that, because I see so many movies, this one was essentially free.

It tells the (mostly true) story of Javed, a second generation British Pakistani kid growing up in the suburbs during the 1980’s. Played by Viveik Kalra, Javed is a talented and passionate writer and dreams of pursuing an education and eventual career in that field. The pressures of being the stereotypical only son to stereotypical British Pakistani parents are added to the minefield that is adolescence, even to those with privilege Javed doesn’t have. While, yes, the strict parents and the dutiful only son are indeed stereotypes of British Pakistani culture, the use of these doesn’t feel like token efforts at inclusion due to the film being the product of Gurinder Chadha, arguably the most commercially successful British Indian filmmaker. Additionally, as the movie is based on the true story of a Bruce mega-fan, the fact that Javed’s young life happened to be a version of tropes that are harmful in the hands of white filmmakers makes the use of them seem less problematic.

A chance encounter with a classmate introduces Javed to the music of Bruce Springsteen. Bruce’s lyrics about dissatisfaction with the mediocre and the futility of meeting other people’s expectations gives Javed the validation every lonely teenager so desperately craves. I have no idea what it feels like to be a racial and religious minority, but I do know what it feels like to be an unhappy kid who finds solace only when completely ensconced in the comfort of music that speaks to you. I can only imagine that being the child of Pakistani parents in 1980’s England compounds the overwhelming sense of alienation and the resulting ennui. In that sense this film is extremely well done.

Another interesting facet of this movie is the inclusion of Bollywood cinema staples, most notably the musical numbers. There are a few of these, the first of which being an angst-ridden solo featuring Javed and dramatic lighting on the night of 15 October 1987 and the notorious ‘hurricane’ mis-forecasted by Michael Fish. Another one is a group number that takes place in, yet another Bollywood motif, a busy market square. Only loosely explained trips abroad and the passage of long periods of time without the use of a montage are two more Bollywood devices that are perhaps less charming. The result is a sometimes awkwardly timed and clunky plot that is periodically broken up by moments of such poignant clarity it’s almost heartbreaking.

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