Movie Guru: ‘Blinded by the Light’ dives into teenage life with the music of Bruce Springsteen
Editor’s note: This film is not showing at the Riverwalk of Edwards, CineBistro in Vail or Capitol Theater in Eagle.
Being a teenager is both a universal experience and utterly individual to everyone.
That’s proven once again in “Blinded by the Light,” the latest from Gurinder Chada, the director of “Bend It Like Beckham.” Though the focus is on Bruce Springsteen’s music, the heart of the movie is a single Pakistani teen growing up in 1980s England. It’s a glimpse into an individual’s world, but anyone who’s ever been a teen will understand some level.
Based on a true story, the movie follows Javed through a stressful school year. His father has lost his job, won’t let him date, and disapproves of his desire to be a writer. On top of that, he has to deal with a terrible economy and strong anti-Pakistani prejudice. When a friend introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen, however, he finally finds a voice for everything he’s feeling.
Springsteen’s music is the movie’s anchor, highlighting Javid’s feelings and experiences. The songs are filtered through Javid’s love for them, but the movie tries hard to make you feel the same love. I’m not sure it managed to, but it did make me appreciate the Boss’s lyrics a lot more than I did growing up.
It also makes the songs work without big dance sequences. Watching someone listening to music isn’t terribly interesting, but director Chada turns it into an artistic experience. The scenes try to capture the feeling of experiencing your favorite song for the first time, the one that speaks to you on a soul-deep level.
It’s an experience most of us have when we’re young, just like Javid. The movie doesn’t really say anything new about being a teenager, but it does a beautiful job of highlighting the age-old milestones. Falling in love. Fighting your parents’ expectations. Making and losing friends. Finding your voice.
At the same time, it does as good a job touching on experiences that many audience members will never have to face. As a Pakistani teen, Javid faces an immense amount of prejudice. He has religious and cultural differences to contend with, giving extra weight to his responsibilities and parental expectations. Sometimes he doesn’t deal with these things very well, but that’s part of the prerogative of being a teenager.
On a wider level, the movie also does an excellent job of bringing the world of 1987 small-town England to life. The hate groups and economic uncertainty will seem all too familiar to today’s audiences, making the story feel that much more relevant. It adds a deeper, slightly chilling edge to what might normally be just a feel-good story.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.
Blinded by the Light
Rated PG-13 for thematic material and language including some ethnic slurs
Written by Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha, and Sarfraz Manzoor
Inspired by the words and music of Bruce Springsteen
Directed by Gurinder Chadha
Starring: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Aaron Phagura, Dean-Charles Chapman, Nikita Mehta, Rob Brydon, Hayley Atwell and more
Grade: Three stars