BLINDED BY THE LIGHT, just like my previous comparison of Goosebumps to Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark, is exactly what the recent film Yesterday should of been: a much more entertaining story that got its inspiration from a musical source. While Yesterday was about The Beatles, Blinded By The Light is based on the true story of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor (the character here is named Javed Khan) and how the influence of Bruce Springsteen and his music changed Sarfraz’s outlook on life living as a British-Pakistani Muslim in the late 1980’s. Yesterday, in my opinion, kind of looks at the music of the Beatles as an afterthought, not really digging deep into the meaning and inspiration of the lyrics and instead uses it as just a mere gimmick as an answer to a “what if” question. Bruce Springsteen’s influence is all over the screen here, really supporting the narrative and bringing something unique to a true life success story we’ve seen plenty of times throughout the history of cinema.
The story features a teenager named Javed Khan and his family living in Luton, England, in the 1980s, at a time where the National Front did not appreciate Pakistani’s immigrating to Britian because of terrorist rule and suppression on Pakistani’s homeland at that time. Javed’s father Malik, has just been laid off at his job, forcing the rest of the family to find jobs or do more with their current ones to feed everyone and pay the bills. Not to mention, Javed is one of only two South Asian students at his school and he is having difficulty coming out of his shell and sharing his writings and poems anyone outside of himself even though he has his English teacher Ms. Clay, played by the beautiful Hayley Atwell, keeping an eye on him as she sees his potential. Javed eventually bumps into the other South Asian student, named Roops, a big fan of Bruce Springsteen, who gives Javed several of his cassettes for him to listen to, as he feels that Bruce’s music and lyrics describe the very hardships they are going through currently. After a night of listening to both tapes straight, Javed is hooked and obsessed with Springsteen, whose melodies and messages gives Javed the inner strength he needs to overcome his obstacles and suppression and make a difference with his life.
The main focus of the story of Javed, other than getting his writing career a jump start kick to the pants, is his relationship with his father Malik. You’ve seen it in many movies before, the rocky relationship between father and son, where the son wants to be accepted by his father/parents for what he wants to do as a career in life, his sexuality, etc. A lot of those movies lose that focus about halfway through the film and then try to wrap it up in a nice and neat little bow in the last ten minutes of the film. Not this movie though, as it has that perfect balance narrative wise needed between Javed getting inspired by Springsteen’s music, getting a foot in the door with his writing career, and trying to be accepted by his father in a household where the father’s wishes and expectations are normally always met 100%. The film is a solid 2 hours of based on a true life storytelling, managing to even squeeze it Javed’s relationship with his child hood friend and getting to date and kiss a girl for the first time, without any of it feeling like filler or being overstuffed.
And I really, really, really, really, really love how they handle Bruce Springsteen and his music and lyrics here. We constantly see what Javed sees and hear what Javed hears while listening to Springsteen while in some of the scenes Springsteens words appear on screen to highlight the exact inspiration that Javed is feeling at the moment. You would think the filmmakers would accidentally use these tactics in the narrative too much to hit its point over the head, but thankfully the movie manages to sidestep that pitfall and only doing it sporadically and also feature moments where the audience needs to listen to the lyrics themselves to understand the feelings that Javed is having at that moment. It’s really quite clever when you see it. The director of this film mostly directs Bollywood films but you may have heard of another little great movie from 2002 that was all the rage at the time, Bend It Like Beckham.
Her name is Gurinder Chadha and not only is she a terrific actor’s director, getting fantastic performances out of everyone involved, but visually this film is terrific as well. Her shots combined with the gritty at times yet uplifting cinematography, fashion, and sets made me feel as though I was right smack dab in the middle of late 80’s Britain. Getting to the acting sides of things, everyone but Hayley Atwell is an unknown, with the incredible Viveik Kalra playing Javed with just the right amount of suppressed angst turned into influence without making the character feel overly sappy or sympathetic. He makes Javed a true hero of his story. Another strong and central performance is Javed’s father Malik played by Kulvinder Ghir, who at first you think is just going to be that hard-ass two-dimensional performance, but a break down scene to his wife in the middle of the film changes all that, bringing a bit of uniqueness to an other wise cliched role that audiences have seen one too many times.
If you had a choice between Blinded By The Light or Yesterday, I would pick Blinded each and every time. What is kind of funny is that the latter was directed by Danny Boyle, usually a really superb visionary director, shot that film plain Jane, where Chadha runs circles around him professionally with this film. It is a feel good and very funny movie that actually earns that feel goodness and laughs instead of trying to force feed you it like Yesterday kind of did (I know I’m ripping on Yesterday a little bit, even though I did recommend that film, this one is similar yet way better). Obviously I am going to recommend it to any Bruce Springsteen fan out there, but this movie transcends from just catering to die hard fans by bringing a film that, even if you aren’t that familiar with his music, you could still enjoy just the same amount as anyone. It is certainly a surprise to see this movie released in August, as usually this is the summer dump period of blockbuster rejects. Glad to see there is a speck of light in this blinded by dumb teenager shark sequels and action three-quels no one really asked for month.