Blinded by the Light

 

            It's a small-scope movie, “inspired by actual events.”  It's the late 1980's in Britain.  A boy whose parents are Pakestani immigrants, Javed (Viveik Kalra), starts a diary and dreams of being a writer.  His family is close, but the times are tough.  His father gets laid off from his factory job. His mother has to take in more sewing to keep the bills paid.  A friend introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen, and Javed is transported by listening to it.  He thinks that Springsteen, though he is an American from New Jersey, knows all about what it's like to grow up poor, but with dreams, and trying not to let the world grind you down.

            We cringe when we witness the vitriolic anti-immigrant sentiment, not only at Javed's school, but even in the streets.  Javed has one English friend, Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), but sometimes their friendship is strained by all the external forces.  Javed's father wants him to quit listening to that “American Jew” (to which Javed always retorts, “He's not Jewish!”), and to remember that he's Pakistani, and family always comes first, starting with respect for the father.  Of course, Javed's father tends to forget that he, too, as a youth, defied his father's wishes, and immigrated to England.

            Javed finally stumbles on a high school romance, with a girl who's into political activism.  Eliza (Nell Williams) invites Javed over for dinner at her house, but her parents are just as awkward about it as his would be.  Javed, with the encouragement of his English teacher, tries writing for the school paper, and then the local newspaper, still nurturing his dream of becoming a writer, though his Dad has forbidden such nonsense, saying it's not a real job.  (Those of us who are writers think he may have a valid point.)

            Those of us who are not all that familiar with the totality of Springsteen's music find it helpful that the lyrics appear on the screen at strategic moments.  However, some of the running-through-the-streets kind of Bollywood dance sequences are not done well, and detract from the story.  The narrative is the strongest when Javed finally realizes (in conjunction with Springsteen's lyrics) that family is important, too, and who we are is shaped by our relationships with everyone around us.

            No, these are not exactly A-list Hollywood actors.  It's not really a music biopic, like “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Rocketman.”  And it's not a musical like “Yesterday,” though Javed sometimes sings along with Springsteen's lyrics.  It's just a tender little tale of a teenager who was transformed by popular music, in a way few would have expected.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association