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MOVIES: Blinded by the Light - Review

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Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it Like Beckham is on of the best movies of the early 2000s, an inspiring, culturally important film especially in the United Kingdom, often shown in schools or on television on endless repeats. Blinded by the Light has echoes of that film but takes place in the 1980s during the height of the Cold War, with Reagan and Thatcher in charge of the United States and the United Kingdom, jobs are being lost by the day and unemployment figures are piling up. Far-right fascists not afraid to openly march in the streets of Luton, writing derogatory graffiti on the walls. It’s a tough environment that protagonist Javed, played by Viveik Kalra, finds himself in, a social outcast from life with few friends. His parents are traditionalists who have emigrated from Pakistan, and are very conservative and still treat him like he was six rather than sixteen. His dreams of becoming a writer are not going to be accepted by a father who wants him to learn economics to support the family, and searching for a room to escape, he is introduced to the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, where he is able to find his own voice. Springsteen, it’s claimed by Javed’s classmate, “is a direct line to all that’s true in this shitty world.”

And so Javed’s life is transformed, he becomes more confident and rebellious, he locks the college’s radio room shut and plays Bruce Springsteen through the speakers and flaunts his sister’s own wedding to buy tickets to see The Boss in Wembley, London, knowing full well his father won’t accept it. The film explores not only the raw power that an artist can have on someone’s life but also explores the dangers that come with fan obsession too, with Chadha treading a thin line between both whilst making the film feel relevant to the current era. Although the film is easily described as a "Bruce Springsteen film”, that's a lazy observation as it is far more complex than a love letter to Javed's idol. You don’t have to enjoy what’s found within its runtime, it’s a coming of age story that although can get a tad too predictable at times, has plenty of heart and interesting family dynamics that it is able to capitalise on.

The performances are all good across the board, Viveik Kalra impresses in the lead role and Nell Williams (who played a younger Cersei on Game of Thrones) is good as Javed’s love interest, Eliza, who is doing her best to prevent Thatcher from being elected for a fourth term despite her parents' conservative nature. Hayley Atwell has a guest role as Ms. Clay, Javed’s inspirational English teacher, and Kulvinder Ghir gives added depth to Javed’s father, making the most out of the script that casts him as a three-dimensional character rather than portrayed as a villain. The film itself casts interesting parallels to present day events with life under Thatcher’s Britain having echoes of today, and manages to inject some life into its world thanks to the joyful and vibrant characters that are instantly likeable. The influences of Bend it Like Beckham are clearly felt here as the film follows a similar structure, but also earns comparisons to the likes of John Carney's wonderful Sing Street. And although the world around them needed more development as it is fairly thinly drawn, the characters are richly compelling enough to like and you can't help but fall in love with them by the end of the film.

Blinded by the Light is caught between two distinct tones, sometimes it goes for hard hitting drama with emotional moments that land whilst others it goes for the more escapist fantasy, air-punching street dances where Javed sings to Eliza with the help of his best friend Matt’s father, played with gusto by Rob Brydon. The film’s best moments are when Springsteen plays over the soundtrack and it’s no surprise there, but the final thirty minutes or so pack a powerful punch in their own right and really provide a perfect ending to the film which revels in its optimism. Up until that point you’ll be wondering why the film wasn’t called Born to Run, but it makes a very good justification for its title Blinded by the Light. And as an added bonus for Springsteen fans, the soundtrack also features his rejected song for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, entitled “I’ll Stand By You”, that plays over the end credits, but apart from that the film is mostly devoid of anachronisms.

The film’s narrative may be formulaic but it’s charming and endlessly watchable, providing an energetic spark and liveliness that stands as one of the best films of the year. The social backdrop feels incredibly relevant and timely, and the film draws upon a rich catalogue of Springsteen’s music to showcase the power of its influence and its universal relatability - the odd collaboration of the closed off nature of the British suburban streets and the openness of Springsteen's country-heavy music isn't as jarring as you'd think. It’s hard not to recommend Blinded by the Light, and by the time the film ends, you’ll be wanting to belt out Springsteen lyrics for days. In a year of good musical films (Yesterday & Rocketman), Gurinder Chadha’s latest stands out as one of the best.

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