Review - Blinded by the Light
2019 has been a year practically dedicated to the discographies of popular artists with hits such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, and Yesterday (shudders).
Whether they be biopics about the singers, full blown musicals or adopting/ embracing the music into original and incredibly pathetic stories (last attack on Yesterday I swear!), we continue this trend with Blinded by the Light.
Directed by Gurinder Chadha (director of Bend it like Beckham) and inspired by Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll (the story of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor). The film follows Javed (Viveik Kalra) through his teenage life in Luton during Thatcher’s Britain and how the works of Bruce Springsteen enabled him to find his voice and place in the world and his family.
The film covers a variety of issues throughout such as political tensions, rising nationalism and racism towards Pakistanis. We're also exposed to familial relationships, romantic ones, and the battle with ones self worth, all of which together begs the question: does the film get crowded or lose sight of what’s important?
So why does this film work? The honest answer is it’s a mix between two factors: a) it doesn’t screw up any of the basics of film telling and characterisation b) in many areas it excels on those factors. Finding fault in this film was nigh on impossible to do for me.
Most people will be drawn to this film because of the music of ‘The Boss’. What’s special about this film is how they use music throughout. There’s an opening sequence that uses Pet Shop Boy’s ‘It’s a sin’ along with editing that uses a traditional screen splitting and box effect showing various shots of the state of 80s Britain and Luton. This has a rather clinical effect on the images, suggesting that everything has become standard and repetitive for Javed, which is a good example of the type of symbolism employed throughout.
The other effect this has is making the impact of Springsteen’s music all the more powerful once introduced. He begins listening during a thunderstorm with bellowing wind heard outside his family home. What happens throughout the songs is that we hear and see lyrics appear on screen when they become thematically important to the story, and creating connections between Javed and the music even more. These sequences build up over time until we see some scenes turn into full blown musical-esque set pieces. Some might say that they don’t fit the style created, but it’s a great way to demonstrate the emotional release that the characters are experiencing, and they’re also just really fun and endearing, so where’s the harm?
Performance wise, the entire ensemble deliver here. Viveik Kalra handles the position of being the lead extremely well, balancing the emotional repression of his character with strong bursts of passion. Compliments also have to be made to how he managed to express so little yet so much in his face, using mostly his eyes to convey the needed emotion (especially the last scene, but we’ll get to that later).
Kulvinder Ghir’s Malik (Javed’s father) was well handled. In a story like this, the father character is usually always played as so strict for the point of tradition (which it is here to an extent), but they really do humanise his character. We see desperate struggles to get a job, a constant front of strength with a really empathetic breakdown half way through. Malik’s ‘I’ve failed you all’ speech to his wife is heart-breaking, and does a lot to inform his actions both up to, and from that point onwards. The way he also plays off of Kalra gives us a lot of the emotional strength of the film.
Special mention also has to go to Nell Williams’ Eliza, the love interest. The chemistry between the two characters was utterly charming and believable. She conveys a strong sense of self-confidence yet being vulnerable in her performance and how she interacts with Javed. This makes it all the more rewarding when not only do we see her having fun in the music segments (the bridge scene is wonderfully silly), but the smile she gives at the end of the film is so distinctively different from previously that it has to make you smile all the more yourself.
Other standout performances were Hayley Atwell’s Ms Clay (teacher) and minor roles from Rob Brydon, Sally Phillips, and Marcus Brigstocke (who delivers a scene which can only be described as uncomfortably funny).
Blinded by the Light has often been described by various critics as a ‘feel good’ film but frankly I think that’s undermining to the actual qualities that this film possesses. This film is truly awe-inspiring, taking elements of what is fairly standard for films set in that decade (especially within media portraying Pakistani families) and deliveres incredible nuance on those issues in ways that I’ve always yearned for. The reading of the essay at the end of the film is both written and performed so beautifully that it had me in tears, and the message of what the phrase ‘being blinded by the light’ actually means ties so many of the film’s narratives together in one of the most satisfying conclusions in a film to date.
It’s fair to say that I was blinded by Blinded by the Light. I was blinded by excellent writing, sympathetic characters, a unique use of music, wonderful performances, a charming romance, and so much more. This film has the potential to be a classic and I hope it enjoys it’s time in the limelight for many years to come.