Blinded by the Light
Gurinder Chadha is no stranger to elevating marginalized voices, especially when it comes to combining these perspectives with popular ideas. Bend it Like Beckham involved soccer, and both Bride and Prejudice and It’s a Wonderful Afterlife were based on previously acclaimed works. Blinded by the Light is the same story: the music of Bruce Springsteen (an American musical hero) gets ingested by a struggling Pakistani teen living in the Margret Thatcher era of England. What I do appreciate is how much time Chadha uses to create fuller family members based around lead character Javed; you may even notice the point where the family goes from one-dimensional to textured creations, and it’s the kind of point-of-no-return that you can teach in a film class and say “see? This is why the extra steps matter”. You start off maybe feeling frustrated by Javed’s father, but even he gets detailed enough that you understand perhaps why he is the way that he is.
Of course, much time is spent on Bruce Springsteen; almost too much. I get that the film is about Boss fanatics, but good lord. The devotion Javed and his friend have for Springsteen is the kind of commitment you’d find in wedding vows. Having said that — and not to contradict what I have just mentioned — I cannot believe how much of the film isn’t about Bruce Springsteen at all. Not even a morsel. You experience Javed’s problems within his family’s financial struggles, and the racism they encounter quite a bit in this film. Not to butt heads too much, but Yesterday struggled with its two main plot focuses: the disappearance of the music by The Beatles, and the focal point romance. It didn’t quite know how much give to have for each element. Blinded by the Light is an example of how much weight can be distributed, and this film is doing more. Sure, the music side of things isn’t as inventive, but you can argue that Chadha and company aren’t biting off more than they can chew.
There are two slight problems that bog Light down more than the film deserves. The first major issue is how much the film relies on plot convenience. Have you ever seen a film, and seen the protagonist have something bad happen to them, so they unnecessarily make more bad stuff happen? Like, let’s say they failed an exam, and now they are mad and have to call off their wedding, give their pet up for adoption, and sell their house? Now they have to get all of that back. You just sit there and wonder “Why? Why are you doing this? There’s that kind of plot convenience: the setting up of a deeper downfall than what the script called for, so the lead has to deal with more. There’s also stuff happening just at the right time. Some films can pull this off and create serendipity. Others do this painfully without grace, and it just seems forced. Light does both, and it can be really obvious up against an otherwise captivating film.
There’s the other main problem when the film gets a bit too heavy handed with what it’s trying to say. You know you’re in for a socially aware narrative given the context, but many moments are handled rather clumsily, and you just feel like you’re not participating in an active conversation, but rather you’re being told as if you aren’t aware that problems exist. Some moments fare much better than others, and you see a painted picture of turmoil that many people faced in the late ‘80s England (and continue to face today, worldwide). This issue isn’t just with the film’s message, but also with its representation of music. Some scenes are tastefully creative, showing how Javed’s life transforms once he has Springsteen blasting. Other scenes have the tact of a 30 Seconds to Mars music video. No one will be left with a different interpretation of particular moments, that’s for sure. It isn’t as consistently noticeable as the plot conveniency is, but it’s there enough. Sometimes, showing is better than telling.
Otherwise, Light lands effortlessly more than it trips during its two hour dance. You can’t go wrong with a killer soundtrack with mostly Boss hits, especially when many of the songs picked deal so heavily with Javed’s scenarios. There is legitimate tension in various parts of the film, and that to me is a huge plus when other moments can be noticeably strained. There are parts that are sectioned off in their own “musical” universe, and it may be hokey and corny, but that’s the American dream: to be the star of your own story, and to have the world be your backdrop during your big numbers. Blinded by the Light is exactly like its main characters (particularly Javed and his father): it isn’t always subtle, and it may be extremely forceful at times, but it always has good intentions.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.