Thu, 22 Aug 2019
Blinded by the Light (12A)
Running time 1hr 57min
BLINDED By The Light is a very modest film; sometimes, that’s just what you need. This is the latest movie from Gurinder Chadha (she of Bend It Like Beckham fame), and it marks a barnstorming return to the director’s pet themes – friendship, identity, love and alienation in multicultural Britain. While it takes as its basis a memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor, everything about the feature (from its kitchen-sink ’80s setting to its meditations upon self) feels intensely personal – this, above all, makes it a rewarding watch, if not a particularly challenging or original one.
Fittingly enough – this is, after all, a movie set to hyper-cheesy heartland rock numbers and decked out in cheap denim – Blinded By The Light singles in upon about as unfashionable a subject matter as is humanly imaginable. Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a 17-year-old misfit growing up in Thatcher-era Luton, who’s become a Bruce Springsteen fan long after the singer-songwriter’s heyday. The Boss’ tunes aid him in navigating the challenges lurking around every corner, from the psychotic racism of local skinheads to the narrow-mindedness of his pushy dad (Kulvinder Ghir). With his unfailing awkwardness and his delusions about his son’s career prospects (expressed in a toe-curling philosemitism – he urges Javed to “do what the Jews do”), Ghir’s character is very much a riff on old material, a British-Asian rendition on the same old ‘embarrassing father’ archetype we’ve all seen before. But the performance is gloriously spirited and punchy – Ghir is the perfect foil to Kalra’s gawky idealism. As he sinks deeper into Springsteen’s discography, Javed begins to mastermind his escape from Luton, all the while courting a potential love interest (Nell Williams).
Walkmans, vinyl and frizzy hair were once a ripe source of cinematic nostalgia, yet one too many a millennial-baiting Netflix miniseries has made them appear almost ubiquitous on the big screen. As such, the film seems decidedly behind the cultural curve, packing in virtually every ’80s movie trope without a hint of self-referential irony. Maybe this is the point. Having bared its hairy dad bod to the audience, Chadha is free to move on to more pressing matters, allowing us to engage with the movie’s emotional core. Blinded By The Light is wonky, overlong and polite to a fault; it’s also supremely enjoyable in that curiously British way, effectively coupling the mundanity of working-class Luton life with the OTT heroism of Brucie’s American anthems. It stumbles along the way, yes, but then it strikes gold. And it strikes big.