In just under twelve months, we have seen films that have glamourized the music of Queen (last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody), Elton John (Rocketman), and The Beatles (Yesterday), not to mention other music icons such as Ray Charles (2004’s Ray), Johnny Cash (2005’s Walk the Line) and Bob Dylan (2007’s I’m Not There). As is the case with any viewer, my familiarity with each artist varied as each movie started. The same is true for the film Blinded by the Light, the most recent film by director Gurinder Chadha (who made the unsung gem of a film Bend it like Beckham back in 2003), about a soul discovering the music of “The Boss” Bruce Springsteen.
Based on a true story, the film is set during 1987 England, during the times of Margaret Thatcher and increased chances of unemployment. It has been seven years since the Khan family has had to flee Pakistan due to the invasion of the Russians. With two older sisters, teenager Javed (newcomer Viviek Chadra) has many more problems than the average High Schooler. Perhaps the most stressful source in his life is his rather domineering (but still loving) dad Malik (Kuvinder Ghir), who is in danger of losing his job. He wants to make sure his son studies hard and “stays away from girls” (which he yells out for all to hear). His mother Noor (Meera Ganatra) is sewing clothes all day in order to make more money. One of his sisters, Yasmeen (Tara Divina), is set to be married, though he does get along well with his other sister Shazia (Nikita Mehta). He constantly seeks the attention of classmate Eliza (Nell Williams), though is still shy to come out of his shell. His only true escape is writing, but even though he tries to write lyrics for his lifelong friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) and his band, the school paper still won’t publish Javed’s work. He does get inspired to keep at it by one of his teachers, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell, once Peggy Carter of the MCU).
All this changes when Javed meets Roops (Aaron Phagura), who insists that a listen to Bruce Springsteen will alleviate him. Indeed, when we experience Javed’s experience of his first Springsteen song (“Dancing in the Dark”), the words are so powerful to him that they almost literally jump off the screen.
The screenplay is rather predictable and borderline trite, as we know that Javed will be inspired to open up about his writing, show his true self to his family (something also very relevant in Bend it Like Beckham), express his feelings, and even interact with Eliza. Yet the film still works because of the nearly effortless charm of everyone in the cast, from Chadra in the lead role to Mr. Evans (David Heyman), the neighbor next door who turns out not to be all Javed believes him to be.
In my review on the film Yesterday (of which I was not a fan), I said that one thing that film got right was the zeal that the film’s character Jack (Himesh Patel) had for The Beatles. The same is true for Javed’s zeal of The Boss. Looking at Javed’s face as he listens to the music, it is easy to imagine back to the time when you were captivated by the Word of God. Not just reading it, but understanding it and letting its power guide your character. The same could be said of looking into the eyes of Javed, as he actually is oozing out intensity as he explains his love of Bruce Springsteen.
Parents, the film is a solid good PG-13. Most of this is do to swearing (including words not considered swearing in the United States), but there is a fair share of racism and mild violence (just a bloody nose when one character is punched in the face). There is kissing, but nothing beyond that. Basically, trust the rating.
As teenagers, we all had forms of escapism (no doubt mine were movies, both past and present). Undoubtedly, the real source we need to “escape” to is Jesus, which requires effort. Or better yet, as we learnt to live as Christ, we learn to live in the world and not escape from it.
We were born to run, after all, so run to Jesus.