Sunday, August 04, 2019

Blinded by the Light – music from the Boss ultimately stronger than the storyline (UK/Irish cinemas from 9 August)

There have been a rash of music-driven films in local cinemas over the last two years. Fantasy musical La La Land (I hated it first time round, loved it upon a second viewing), The Greatest Showman (stronger musically than visually), A Star Is Born (with a totally mesmerising Lady Gaga), Bohemian Rhapsody (totally ga ga story), Imagine (which thankfully puts the songs on a pedestal rather than the original artists) and Rocketman (not yet seen).

Blinded by the Light gets under the skin of a family living in Luton. Javed’s parents emigrated from Pakistan to England. The traditional paternalistic attitudes and values in his home are in stark contrast to the influences he bumps up against in sixth form college. It’s 1987, Thatcher is in power, the Vauxhall car plant is laying off workers, and the cool kids carry around ghetto blasters on their shoulders. Javed is an undercover writer – a diarist, a poet, and a lyricist – trying to assert some control on his present and his future.
“In my house, no one’s allowed opinions except my Dad.”

Introduced to the music of Bruce Springsteen, Javed (played by the captivating Viveik Kalra) falls in love with the lyrics which he feels speak directly into his situation. He also falls in love with a left-wing activist friend Eliza (Nell Williams) whose Tory parents provide great comedy value when he goes around for dinner. Clashing against this backdrop of self-discovery and selfish desire are the plummeting financial situation at home as his Dad stops being the primary wage-earner and his Mum’s side-line making clothing becomes essential to the family’s survival.

The parental pressures are somewhat universal. A dancing-in-the-street scene is cut into the action. It’s clunky, because Blinded by the Light isn’t a full-on-musical, but it does manage to gently reinforce the premise that this is a heart-warming coming-of-age story that doesn’t want to stay too serious despite the bonhomie being peppered with explicit and implicit racism at every turn.

Then, drunk on Springsteen, the film’s finale loses the run of itself as writer/director Gurinder Chadha’s plot shelves the emerging romcom and abandons Eliza, instead allowing a blokey trip to the US with Roops (Aaron Phagura) to complete the two-hour movie and squeeze in some more tunes from the Boss.

Blinded by the Light (12A) shows initial promise but throws everything away in the final twenty minutes. Springsteen fans will enjoy its melodies, social anthropologists will appreciate the commentary on Thatcher’s Britain, haters of Luton will revel in the town’s grim portrayal, but I remain unconvinced about the structure of the tale being told.

Released in UK and Irish cinemas from 9 August 2019.

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