I found myself taken by Blinded by the Light, albeit after it spent a while working me over — the second half in particular is a bit irresistible, between its quasi-musical sequences and its surprising tearjerker turns at the end.
And I’m not even into Bruce Springstein, around whose music probably 80%of this movie revolves. I don’t dislike his music by any means, but neither have I much paid any attention to it; I can barely recognize two of his songs from his decades-long career. The one I always liked the best, “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” isn’t even in this movie as it came out several years too late. The setting here is 1987, just a few years past the peak of Springstein’s career.
Blinded by the Light isn’t going to inspire me to go binge on his career retrospective, either, but the songs included are still pretty great, especially in context. As opposed to the surprisingly disappointing Yesterday, if you really want a feel-good movie about a young British man of South Asian descent whose story hinges on the discography of a massive rock star, look no further than this one.
I mean, sure, the music of the Beatles is objectively better than that of Springstein. Presumably director and co-writer Gurinder Chadha, not to mention co-writer Sarfraz Manzoor on whose memoir this script is loosely based, would bristle at such a suggestion. Well, they can take consolation in the assertion that virtually everything else about Blinded by the Light is better.
That is, even though Blinded by the Light is just as corny as it is charming, especially in its first half, which honestly drags a little. But then high school teenager Javed (Viveik Kalra, perfectly cast, a uniquely charismatic screen presence) is introduced to Bruce Springstein by a classmate (Aaron Phagura) and it rocks his world. It kind of rocks the movie too, and knocks some propulsive energy into it.
Chadha presents something that is close to, but stops short of, being a musical. It has occasional, barely stylized flourishes. On the whole it’s all lighthearted British fluff, the heaviest elements made of the sociopolitical backdrop of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher conservatism. Javed’s dad (Kulvinder Ghir) has lost his factory job and his mom and sister have to pick up the slack with sewing work. A subplot involving local racist hatred toward Pakistani immigrants makes an attempt at gravitas but never digs particularly deep.
That said, it’s easy to appreciate how this story avoids the most typical pitfalls and stereotypes of plots involving South Asian immigrants. I completely expected Javed’s father to disapprove of him having a white girlfriend, especially after he actually makes comments about eventually finding Javed a wife, and that this would figure heavily into the central conflict. Instead, Blinded by the Light takes gentle turns into surprising directions.
It’s even surprisingly moving — the climactic moment made me cry enough that I had to get my shirtsleeves wet wiping away tears, wishing someone had warned me I should have brought a tissue. At its heart, this movie is about learning new ways of respecting and understanding each other via new perspectives, and it effectively harnesses the power of music to get the point across in unusually touching ways.