I’ve never really listened to Bruce Springsteen. His music reminds me of the kind of chest-beating, over-patriotic Americana that really grinds on my nerves. But after watching this and hearing more of his songs than I’d previously heard, I realise that I may have presumed too much about Mr Springsteen.
This is a film from Gurinder Chadha, the director behind Bend it Like Beckham, the 2002 film about an Asian-British teenage outsider exploring a world in which their family disapproves of. Conversely, Blinded by the Light is a film about an Asian-British teenage outsider exploring a world which their parents disapprove of.
Although that may be mostly sarcasm in my lovably facetious way, there are several similarities to be drawn between the filmmaker’s previous output and his latest effort. Not that this is automatically a bad thing, every filmmaker has a voice, and if Chadha is giving a voice to the Asian-British community, then more power to her, but does this celebration as Springsteen connect well with her themes of Asian identity?
Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a 16-year-old Pakistani-British boy living in the tail-end of Thatcher’s Britain, a time of great Social and Economic upheaval, contending with the rise of the ultra far-right National Front, and the prospect of a life of unemployment, he dreams of escaping for a better life as a writer, and discovering the music of a certain American singer, opens his eyes to new forms of expression.
If we are forced to seriously draw comparisons between this film and Bend it Like Beckham, then we have several similarities in which we can start, and be very justified in drawing attention to this, however, for all its similarities, Blinded by the Light manages to break away from the shadow left by BILB and forge its own identity in doing so.
At a glance, Springsteen might seem like an odd choice to base a story ostensibly about Pakistani-British life around, the film finds clever ways of making his words apply to the situations Javed finds himself in, making use of visually showing the words on screen to drive home the point that what Bruce is singing about is what Javed is thinking, while this could have seemed invasive, it is used just enough to establish a point, without being overly relied on in a way that seems like an exposition dump.
There’s a fine line to walk between representation and stereotype, one that becomes narrower the more you focus on one specific identity, of course, when it is handled by someone of a the same, or similar, race the blow is softened somewhat and we allow for more wiggle room than if a white person were to be directing the film. The plot thread of over-bearing ethnic parents was also explored in BILB, and I’d say is pushed even further here, almost to the point where Javed’s father becomes unlikable, where the aim seemed to be to make him sympathetic.
Character-wise, the film is an exploration of Britain at that time, some characters gain depth as the story progresses, others remain slightly one-dimensional, for instance, time is given to flesh out Javed’s sister into a more complex character, while his best friend, Matt, remains a stereotype of the fashion-chasers who inhabited the late-80’s. In the films defence, it did have a lot of characters to juggle, but it could be argued that if that’s the case, then maybe not all of the characters should have made the final cut.
On the story front, it takes a while to properly get going, and the first 45 minutes were almost entirely disposable, and while I’ve never bought ‘it gets better later’ as a valid excuse for a film, it does eventually pick up towards the end of the film, its final act in particular executes its story ideas very nicely, and the final ten minutes left me with a big smile on my face.
There can also be comparisons drawn with another recent release, Yesterday (review here: Yesterday Review) in that the story heavily features the songs of one particular artist without ever being about them, and Blinded tackles a lot more heftier issues than Yesterday does, and ultimately left me more satisfied. I enjoyed the few musical set-pieces and sympathised with its lead characters. It can be clunky and at times wasteful, but there’s a big heart lying underneath all of that, one that shines through in the final act.
In conclusion, this is a hard film to summarise, as I say by the end I left with a smile on my face, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for losing interest about an hour in, such is the time it takes the plot to finally get going, but for what its worth, when it does get going it has a lot to offer, a film with a big heart, and important messages of identity and belonging is in here, and sometimes shines through, but it is brought down by its sluggish first act and some shallow characters.