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"BLINDED BY THE LIGHT"
(2019) (Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A Pakistani teen living in 1987 Britain finds enlightenment and his own creative calling when a classmate introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen.
PLOT:
It's 1987 and Javed Khan (VIVEIK KALRA) is a 16-year-old who lives in Luton, England with his parents, Malik (KULVINDER GHIR) and Noor (MEERA GANATRA), and sisters, among whom Shazia (NIKITA MEHTA) is the closest with him. Like others of Pakistani descent, Javed must put up with nationalist racism and thus puts his feelings into his poetry, something his teacher, Ms. Clay (HAYLEY ATWELL), hopes to draw out of him. But what makes that happen is when a classmate, Roops (AARON PHAGURA), introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen.

Javed instantly feels a connection with The Boss and especially his working-class lyrics, something that Javed's new wave music loving best friend, Matt (DEAN-CHARLES CHAPMAN), simply doesn't get. But fellow classmate and political activist Eliza (NELL WILLIAMS) does, and soon she and Javed become a thing, all while the teen must contend with his traditional father not understanding him and his newfound love for all things Springsteen.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
While I didn't have the pleasure of seeing "Springsteen on Broadway" -- rock icon Bruce Springsteen's essentially one-man show that he performed 236 times over two years -- in person, I did catch it recently on Netflix. I've always liked The Boss and his poetic, working-class lyrics, but have to admit I haven't bought an album of his since 1992's "Human Touch."

Thus, it was nice reconnecting with the singer-songwriter through his intimate show where he proved not only is he quite the storyteller, but his lyrics -- with the music stripped down to just him playing the guitar or piano as accompaniment -- are pretty much second to none. Such writing often gets lost in the music, but the Broadway show had them out in the forefront for all to hear and admire.

Director Gurinder Chadha does something sort of along those same lines in "Blinded by the Light," an absolutely delightful, charming, thoughtful and timely cinematic look at how music can inspire someone to come out of their shell, face adversity head-on, and blossom.

Rather than stripping down Springsteen's songs, however, Chadha -- whose previously best-known work to date has been "Bend It Like Beckham -- puts those lyrics up on the screen in a number of creative ways for all to see, and thus showcases their power.

In someone else's hands and perhaps if featuring someone else's lyrics that might have come across as silly or reeking of pretentious profundity, but such moments fly off the screen with such power that you'll likely be reacting with a big smile, some toe-tapping, possibly some goose-bumps and maybe even a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye.

The story -- penned by Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges and Sarfraz Manzoor in adapting the true-life story of the latter being introduced to Springsteen's music as a teen -- revolves around a 16-year-old of Pakistani descent (an absolutely terrific Viveik Kalra) who's dealing with issues on multiple fronts. Beyond not yet having a girlfriend (or even kissing a girl), he and others like him must contend with racism in Margaret Thatcher's England of the late 1980s.

Like others his age whose Pakistani families immigrated there, Javed also has very traditional parents in that his father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), has final say in everything and doesn't understand his son's creativity that he believes should be focused on more practical things, such as preparing oneself to make a living.

And then along comes his Sikh classmate, Roops (Aaron Phagura), who provides emotional and cultural salvation in the form of a few cassette tapes containing Springsteen's music. Javed initially just pockets those, but once he finally starts playing one, those lyrics spring from the speakers and onto the screen where they pierce his mind and soul.

Despite literally and figuratively living different lives in countries thousands of miles apart, Javed feels a kindred spirit with the Boss and has a deep awakening from this experience and exposure, something understood by Roops, fellow classmate and political activist Eliza (Nell Williams), and their teacher at school, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell). But Javed's longtime best friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) -- who's fully committed to the new wave music scene -- doesn't get it, eventually leading to something of a falling out between them.

As Javed contends with all of that -- and a budding romance with Eliza as accompanied by a group market sing-along of "Thunder Road" -- the music yanks his creativity to the forefront and, as the Boss sings, the teen won't ever look back, what with being born to run.

While it might not be Oscar-caliber, everything about the pic works and I have to admit I loved it from start to finish. If you're looking for the feel-good movie of 2019 that also features some surprising depth regarding family relationships, the rise of racism and nationalism and a lot more, you won't find anything better than this delightful and highly entertaining film. I can't wait to see it again and thus "Blinded by the Light" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.




Reviewed July 17, 2019 / Posted August 16, 2019


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