Blinded by the Light (2019) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

I’ve been waiting to see Gurinder Chadha’s new film Blinded by the Light (2019) since it debuted at Sundance and the buzz reached my ears. Once the trailer dropped, I knew it had the potential to not only be my favorite movie of 2019, but possibly sneak its way into my top 50 all time. It finally arrived at my local theater and I really did enjoy it…but not quite as much as I had been hoping. Still, Blinded by the Light offers much to fall in love with, and is definitely one everybody should make the effort to see. 

Blinded by the Light is a film that talks about passion in family and a pure joy of an experience

It’s 1987, and Javed (Viveik Kalra) is Pakistani and living in Luton, a small town outside of London, in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. He has ambitions to be a writer, but his father (Kulvinder Ghir) wants him to have a “real” job, and is controlling Javed’s life, as well as his sister’s and mother’s. The depression and bigotry of the culture is very present in the film, and it is smothering Javed – but Roops (Aaron Phagura) introduces him to Bruce Springsteen’s music, and it changes everything. 

That last detail is what raised my expectations for this film. It’s probably pretty obvious that I’m a huge fan of movies, given how much of my life is dedicated to watching and studying them. So much of the first thirty years of my life was also dedicated to music, thus stories about people being inspired by the arts that I love often resonate with me. Add to this that I’m also a writer and went to school to be a reporter – so everything about Javed’s arc felt familiar, which was a detail I picked up on in the trailer. Even though I’ve never really listened to Bruce Springsteen and thus had no nostalgia for his music, I found myself very much enjoying both the music and the lyrical content of his songs, and how it played with Javed’s life. I would say that almost every aspect of this part of the story worked for me so well – but there were a few parts that felt tacked on, or a little overly sentimental. 

I really enjoyed Bend it Like Beckham (2002), which is the only other film by Chadha that I’ve seen (which also got me excited for Blinded by the Light). Chadha has a great ability of building the world that the characters live in, and I think she does that here. I had no clue about much of what was going on in Britain in 1987, and honestly, I didn’t realize that Springsteen was considered old news to many by ‘87. What was crazy (and probably even sadder than it was crazy) was how so much of the racism depicted in the film by the Neo-facist community mirrors what we see happening in the U.S. over the last couple of years. It makes the real-life story of Sarfraz Manzoor, of whom Javed is closely based on, all the more compelling. 

The final thing I want to talk about is a choice that Chadha made to turn this into a musical that isn’t a musical. Normally, if a character is going to break out into song, a music cue drops, and all the characters in the film sing and know the choreography. Here, we get scenes that play out like they are from a musical, but the music is organically diegetic. For example, Javed falls for Eliza (Nell Williams) a girl that he goes to school with. She becomes aware of his feelings after he serenades here while simply singing along to a Bruce Springsteen song playing in his headphones. Luckily, it’s a well known song, and he gets some backing vocals. The scene is great, and Chadha’s creativeness make it incredibly memorable. 

Final thoughts…

Blinded by the Light is absolutely a contender for my favorite film of the year, but I think it may fall short. I think a second viewing is likely though, before any decisions are made. My biggest fear – especially locally – is that people aren’t aware of what this movie is and aren’t going to see it. I went to the late show on a Saturday night, and I was the only one in my theater. Thus, Blinded by the Light gets the Must See rating – and a plea to see it in theaters!

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