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Blinded by the Light review – flawed but feelgood | reviews, news & interviews

Blinded by the Light review – flawed but feelgood

Blinded by the Light review – flawed but feelgood

Bruce Springsteen's blue collar anthems fuel a novel addition to the music biopic

Nell Williams, Viveik Kalra and Aaron Phagura may be born to run, but the dance moves need a little work

Filmmakers have an obsession with the music world that is beginning to seem unhealthy. In quick succession we’ve had two Abba musicals, biopics of Freddie Mercury and Elton John, A Star is Born with Lady Gaga and the Beatles fantasy Yesterday, most of which feel pretty B-side. 

Blinded by the Light does deserve a pressing, even if it pushes its luck. Directed by Gurindha Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham), it’s a strange animal, a hybrid of coming-of age drama, comedy and musical, with a novel way of appropriating a music icon – in that the biography isn’t of the star, but the fan.

Based on the journalist Sarfraz Manzoor’s 2008 memoir Greetings from Bury Park, it charts the formative impact of Bruce Springsteen’s music on his life as a young British Pakistani in 1980s Luton. And the obvious incongruity is the point: it’s there in the title of the book (a play on Springsteen’s debut album, Greetings from Ashbury Park, NJ) and in the understanding that The Boss’s lyrics about the emotional and economic struggles of working-class Americans resonate with anyone, anywhere, wishing for a better life. 

In Thatcher’s Britain, one such is 16-year-old Javed (the highly promising Viveik Kalra). At home, the youngster’s ambition to be a writer is being quashed by his traditional Muslim father (Kulvinder Ghir, pictured left with Meera Ganatra and Kalra), who wants nothing more for his son than an arranged marriage and a job as an accountant. Outside the house, the boy is tormented by racists. It’s no surprise that one of his poems is titled “Luton is a four-letter word”. 

But then a new friend, another Asian boy and himself a loner, lends Javed his Springsteen tapes. They're a far cry from the Bros and Curiosity Killed the Cat being played by the school DJ. Suddenly someone is singing about his own experience. And the effect on Javed's confidence and sense of purpose – with girls as well as his writing – is life-changing.  

The film has a lot of heart and an oddball, bitter-sweet charm. As with Beckham, Chadha captures her milieu well, here a world of factory lay-offs and National Front skinheads roaming the streets, along with the often fierce tensions between British-born Asians and their conservative parents. 

Where Chadha gets unstuck, ironically, is the music. Javed’s epiphanal night during the Great Storm of 1987, as "Promised Land" plays on his headphones, is a rousing expression of the urge to escape; but a street market ensemble song and dance to "Thunder Road", led by a hammy Rob Brydon, hits new heights of cheesiness, and the almost constant presence of Springsteen in the boy’s ears – turning inspiration into a music geek's self-help – ultimately becomes wearing.  

We’re also left to bemoan the waste of Hayley Atwell as Javed’s sympathetic English teacher, and of Javed’s younger sister, whose own secret life – sneaking out to underground Asian dance clubs –  is much more interesting and subversive than his. 

Chadha captures her milieu well, here a world of factory lay-offs and National Front skinheads roaming the streets


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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