Watch this as soon as you can…
Gurinder Chadha (Bride and Prejudice, Bend It Like Beckham) has created a new film that embraces two currents of the river flowing through Hollywood at the moment.
Firstly, Blinded by the Light is a feel-good tribute to a influential musical mega-artist. There has been an explosion of these recently: Rolling Thunder, Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, and Yesterday. It is only a matter of time before Bowie or The Rolling Stones get one. Chadha’s new film is a tribute to Bruce Springsteen, if you could not tell by the title. Rather than telling the story of Springsteen’s life, this film is unique in choosing to focus on the life of a fan from Luton, and how Springsteen’s music sparked positive change in his life. If you are a fan of his music, there is plenty to enjoy here. The soundtrack is mostly a “This Is” Spotify playlist dedicated to The Boss. The songs are aptly chosen with regards to the character development of Javed (Viveik Kalra). “The Promised Land” plays during a key milestone of Jared’s character development, and “Born to Run” perfectly encapsulates his growing rebellious spirit later. It is a pleasure to hear, and enhances this feel good story.
Secondly, Chadha’s tribute to Springsteen is also following the trend of 80s nostalgia. More and more films and television series are being set in that tumultuous decade, representing it as a lost golden age to be remembered fondly. Stranger Things and It immediately spring to mind as obvious examples. Blinded by the Light is obviously not a horror, for it follows the classic template of a feel-good comedy set by Bend it Like Beckham, so the comparison may appear tenuous. Chadha’s film is also more interesting in its representation of the 80s by choosing to depict it from the perspective of a character from an ethnic minority group in Luton. The 80s is much less nostalgic here: mass unemployment, a “witch” as prime minister, and ubiquitous racism (from outright use of slurs to the idea that Jared can only work on the “Asian channel”). The dark underbelly of that decade is on full display here, subverting the trend of depicting the 80s positively and uncritically.
This backdrop is also effective because it serves to juxtapose with the pure joy Bruce Springsteen brings to Jared’s life. The lyrics often appear on screen, which is a nice touch. It draws attention to the key words that really speak to Jared. They also create the impression that the music is overwhelming Jared, often following and encircling him. This use of visual text not only pays tribute to the immense impact Springsteen had on him, but foreshadows Jared’s blinding by the light of his music. He starts making selfish choices which are hard to approve, like skipping half a wedding to nab Springsteen tickets, which were hardly selling out anyway. Nevertheless, Jared constantly remains likeable. Kalra does a great job at capturing the awe and inspiration Springsteen’s music can inspire, whilst also showing the darker aspects of the 80s can take their toll. You can empathise with Jared when he puts himself and the music before his family. He feels locked, and miserable, in Luton, and Springsteen opens a door for him to escape.
It is hardly an original structure or template. If you have seen any feel good British comedy, you have seen this one, and you will see the emotional beats coming a mile off. The dialogue often relies heavily on the lyrics of Springsteen. Rather than capture Javed’s thoughts and feelings through his own words, he often quotes The Boss himself. Used sparingly, this could have been an effective tribute. It is overused though, and comes across as cheesy a lot of the time. Hayley Atwell’s stock character of an English teacher would be the worst offender if the film did not have that neighbour randomly walk into the family home every now and then to praise Jared’s writing. Has anyone ever had a neighbour so invested in their ambitions? The film can feel unrealistic and contrived at times.
This is a feel-good movie, though. Depicting the reality of being working-class and from an ethnic minority in the 80s, which this film does with damning authenticity, does not naturally lend to optimism. To achieve its goal of making the audience smile, rules have to be bent. Yes, nobody talks in such a cheesy manner, and nobody’s neighbour is that caring. Who cares? Even the hardest of cynics will smile. This film is at its strongest when it is depicting the dark, harsh realities of Thatcher’s Britain, but it also does a brilliant job of showing the light too.