Blinded by the Light is based on a memoir by Guardian journalist Sarfaz Manzoor (who is also one of the screenwriters on the movie) and is directed by Gurinder Chadha (also one of the screenwriters), who had a hit back in 2002 with Bend it like Beckham. I remember seeing the trailer for this before watching Rocketman recently and it certainly looked like a pretty enjoyable 80s based British movie, set to a soundtrack of Bruce Springsteen songs. Unfortunately though, this turned out to be just a fairly average and generic drama, enjoyable at times, but kind of just meandering along and not really working for me.
The movie takes place in Luton during 1987, focusing on Pakistani teenager Javed (Viveik Kalra) as he struggles to find balance and purpose in his life against the backdrop of a Britain that’s ruled by Margaret Thatcher and dominated by unemployment, uncertainty and racial tension. His father has very old fashioned views and his expectations for Javed begin to conflict with his own. Tensions within the family increase when his father is made redundant from the Vauxhall factory he has worked at for many years and Javed’s dreams of becoming a writer don’t really sit well with his father in terms of being a worthwhile career route. Javed begins sixth form college where his eyes are soon opened to a much bigger world, full of potential. And full of girls!
Everything comes to a head for Javed on the night of the famous UK storm of 1987. We see the infamous Michael Fish weather forecast on TV and a frustrated Javed, having dumped all of his poems outside in the bin, returning to his room and plugging into his Walkman the Bruce Springsteen cassette borrowed from his friend Roops. The song lyrics immediately click and resonate with Javed and we see them flashing up on the screen as he listens, swirling around his head or flashing up on walls. At the same time we see him remembering earlier scenes from the movie, elements of his life with which connect him with the message within the music, in a kind of low-key 80s music video style. It gives the impression of a major turning point in the movie, and the kind of uplifting musical direction in which the movie is heading. In a way, it kind of is, particularly with regard to Javed’s ‘awakening’. However, in terms of the musical sequences beyond this one, they’re more along the lines of random singing and dancing at school or out on the town. It’s more awkward and confusing than uplifting and enjoyable.
Blinded by the Light felt like the combination of a number movies I’ve seen before, with nothing really elevating it beyond those in terms of originality. So many generic characters – from the father stuck in his ways, dictating how his son should live his life, to the supportive and encouraging teacher (Hayley Atwell, on fine form here). And so many clichéd moments too – the best example being when an emotional Javed is arguing with his angry father and repeatedly waving in front of him the concert tickets he just bought without his knowledge. Three guesses as to what happens next…!
Overall, I didn’t completely dislike this movie. I liked the 80s school setting, as that was the period that I was in secondary school, so could relate to that. But it also feels like the kind of movie drama that they used to make in the 80s too, and I expect more from my cinema experience these days. It also seems to be getting the usual “one of the best movies this year” phrase thrown at it though, something which I think is bandied around a little too freely at the moment. I put it squarely in the same camp as another movie from this year – Wild Rose, another movie that didn’t really do it for me – so if you were one of the many people who enjoyed that movie, then Blinded by the Light will be well worth your time.
Blinded by the Light is in UK cinemas from 9th August