Written by: Hannah Tran | August 15th, 2019
Blinded by the Light (Gurinder Chadha) 2 out of 4 stars.
Most can look back at their lives and pinpoint a time in which they had a sort of spiritual awakening through the discovery of some band or song. I certainly could. It’s not only a relatable experience that binds lovers of rock and rap, it’s a transformative experience that has the power to change the way one dresses, the way one speaks, and the way one acts. So the story of a British-Pakistani boy finding salvation from his dreary, small town life through the discovery of the music of Bruce Springsteen sounds like something everyone would be able to recognize in some way or another. However, this Sundance darling is too centered on Springsteen to be a relatable experience about finding an artist that speaks to you and too distracted by its internal issues to really make any meaningful use of its core premise.
While English filmmaker Gurinder Chadha’s coming of age romp certainly becomes more focused and exciting as it goes on, it takes an awful long time to get there. Most of this film’s flaws could visibly be fixed by going back to the editing room. Many of the subplots, characters, and scenes make the final cut feel like a first cut. Although the filmmakers may have had a vision of the amalgamation of the tea and crumpet Brits, the deeply traditional immigrants, the aggressive skinheads, and the progressive teens rising up against the establishment that makes up their perceived world of 1980’s Britain, most characters here feel nonessential to the protagonist’s journey, and most side stories within it distract from his ultimate quest. The characters seem more like stereotypical caricatures within the protagonist’s mind before they seem like actual human beings. All of these stories amount to an overly saccharine mixture that seems overly manipulative of audience’s heartstrings.
One thing this movie does right is make you want to like these actors. These characters may be overly sweet, but they are undoubtedly endearing. Rob Brydon as a corny dad and Aaron Phagua as a Springsteen fanatic are the main standouts here. The thing it does wrong, however, is give these actors the most unnatural and bizarre dialogue. The fine line separating musical and reality is too muddled and, no matter how good Springsteen may be as a lyricist, it’s impossible to watch someone relentlessly recite his lyrics in natural conversation and not feel uncomfortable. The noncommittal energy concerning its musical elements extend beyond the characters. The musical scenes often feel like cheap music videos. The text on screen is especially aesthetically bothersome and exemplifies the movie’s incapability of subtlety.
Looking beyond its technical faults, Blinded by the Light’s virtues lie in its commentary on the turbulent social fabric that the country saw at the time. While initially the 1980’s setting seemed like an inconsequential, nostalgic blast from the past, it made a laudable use of this background by examining the struggles faced by immigrant families in Thatcher’s England. Not only does this cause hardship for the family on a national scale, but it internally drives a rift between father and son as our lead, Javed, goes against his father’s more traditional wishes for him in pursuit of being a writer.
It is this pursuit that ultimately disenchanted my viewing of this film. As Javed read and wrote essay after essay, the most important being the story of his family, I could not help but think that an essay would have been a better format to portray the story within this film. With its multiple side stories and countless filler scenes, this story dreams of being a movie. Unfortunately, it’s just not quite there.