“Blinded by Light,” directed by Gurinder Chadha, follows a Pakistani teen named Javed (Viveik Kalra) as he deals with racism and a financially-struggling family while attempting to make it as a writer. Well, “follows” might not be the right word, as the film randomly jumps from pointless scenes to unnecessary music montages with no real sense of direction, as if the film itself was blinded by the light.
The story — which was based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir, “Greetings from Bury Park: A Memoir” — had loads of potential. Taking place in Luton, England in the 1980s when racism against Pakistani people was in full swing, Javed becomes inspired by the songs of Bruce Springsteen and attempts to pursue writing against his father’s wishes.
Rather than weaving this all together through well-thought-out scenes, the film instead decides to repeatedly hit you over the head with images of blunt racism, Javed’s father stereotypically pressuring Javed to make money instead of writing and music montages that are too choreographed and forced to seem realistic yet not frequent enough to make the movie a musical. On top of this, half the scenes are pointless and fail to drive the plot forward, causing the film to waste a lot of time going nowhere.
Clichés contribute to the film’s monotonous nature, making what should be a unique and interesting story feel anything but. There’s the classic scene of the dad dropping the kid off to school and saying something embarrassing, to the student getting a paper back with a poor grade on it, and you can’t forget the slow-motion tracking shot of the protagonist walking through the halls filled with their socially-intimidating peers, reminiscent of every movie about high school ever made.
The characters in the film stay pretty stagnant as well. There is almost no character development throughout the entire film. You only really get a sense of their personality based on their generic stereotypes.
Javed’s father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), is the strict father, pushing his kid away from his passion and toward a job that will supposedly make more money for their struggling family. There’s also this weird running joke where he is obsessed with Jewish people that is very overused and becomes nothing more than cheap humor by the end.
Eliza (Nell Williams), Javed’s love interest, feels like she is there only for Javed to write song lyrics about her. She is virtually nonexistent for the first half the movie and her rebellious, political nature doesn’t really add anything to the movie other than a random and awkward scene where Javed has dinner with her and her racist parents.
And Javed’s two best friends have very little impact on the film. To be fair, Roop (Aaron Phagura), who Javed meets at school early in the film, does introduce Javed to Bruce Springsteen, which is pretty important, but after that, all he does is run around next to him during random music montages. As for Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), the only depth he has as a character comes from the teenage-dropout-rock-star-wannabe stereotype he embodies. His only real significance to the film is, at one point, he gets in a fight with Javed that helps to put him at his low point before the climax, but the fight is over something really stupid and comes across as unrealistic.
The acting and over-the-top dialogue didn’t help these characters either. For most of the film, the performances just felt awkward and the conversations were written lazily. Every now and then there was a scene where the actor really hit home, particularly Javed’s speech at the end and later when his mother, Noor (Meera Ganatra) finally confronts his father. But other than that, there weren’t many other memorable moments.
This isn’t to say that the movie was all bad, as it did do some things well. The semi-diegetic inner voice narration through Javed was actually pretty interesting, as it was all told through his poems. This not only changes things up from normal film narrations, but it allows the audience to see more how Javed interprets the world and what’s around him, as well as adds an extra layer of emotion.
Bruce Springsteen’s songs and the incorporation of them was also a highlight of the film. Again, one of the main storylines was how Springsteen inspired Javed and the timing of the songs and the messages Javed gets out of them, whether it be finding his voice or chasing his dreams; these were both extremely well done, despite sometimes being overshadowed by a montage or running through the streets of Javed’s hometown. The decision to display some of the lyrics on screen was an interesting choice but one that worked well as it helps the audience pick up what lines Javed was relating to.
With “Blinded By the Light” being set in 1987, there were plenty of pop culture references from the ’80s, from Javed getting a Rubick’s Cube for his eighth birthday at the beginning of the film to him listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in The USA” on a Walkman. The opening credits scenes were also reminiscent of teen movies of that era.
At times, the cinematography was aesthetically pleasing and narratively significant. There were several centered shots of Javed’s family, sometimes in the living room or framed through their car windshield, that seemed to project the order Javed’s father desired. One centered shot focused on Javed’s face while his father paced back and forth ranting in the background. You can really see the emotion on Javed’s face as he tries to use Springsteen to block out the chaos going on around him. And often when characters had cash in their hands, close-ups of it showed the significance money had on the family and the film.
But these aspects, while done well, were not enough to make “Blinded By the Light” engaging. The poor acting, uninspiring writing and cliché-filled cyclical narrative causes the story and the characters to simply fall flat.