Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Blinded by the Light, or: Born in Thatcher’s UK

If you’ve been following news from the US in particular, but also worldwide developments in the Covid-19 pandemic as a whole, 2021 doesn’t seem off to a promising start. Unless, of course, you focus your attention on our plans for the Blog Collab. What started out as an attempt to cheer ourselves up with inspiring films has morphed into a sort of music appreciation/coming-of-age theme that we never knew we needed. Not all of our plans have worked out on the Collab, but I feel a round of applause is in order for the parts of our brain that anticipated this unintended theme was just the ticket.

Jumping back from the ’90s Midlands last week to Thatcher’s 1980s Britain (blegh), the events unfolding in this film don’t necessarily represent an improvement over the 2020s. But our film for the week does consider immigrant experiences, pursuing personal dreams, and the power of music to uplift (or at least spur on impressively choreographed dance scenes).

The Film:

Blinded by the Light

The Premise:

A British-Pakistani teen in 1980s England falls in love with the music of Bruce Springsteen while struggling to balance his family’s expectations with his dreams of becoming a writer.

The Ramble:

Growing up in 1980s Luton, British-Pakistani teen Javed’s feelings about his hometown largely comprise the urge to get away as soon as possible. Bullied and harassed by skinheads in training, resistant to his family’s ambitions, and somewhat of a loner at school, Javed takes comfort only in writing, whether journal entries, poetry, or lyrics for his bff Matt’s band.

A teen boy looks unenthusiastically at a small cake his mother is presenting to him for his birthday. His father and younger sister stand on the sides, smiling expectantly.

Javed shares opinions on few issues with his father, who pressures him to stay focused on school rather than going to parties or dating. The family agrees that Javed should attend university; however, while dad Malik insists on his son pursuing a lucrative field like economics, Javed secretly enrolls in English A levels.

During the school day, Javed receives encouragement from his teacher, crushes on political activist Eliza, and longs to be part of one of the “tribes” of students. He doesn’t realize that a small gesture from Sikh student Roops will change his life: a loan of a Bruce Springsteen cassette.

Two teen boys have an intense conversation while standing outside of the front of a school building.

Javed immediately relates to the Boss’s songs of rejection, loneliness, rebellion, and the pain of being an outsider. Emboldened by Springsteen’s lyrics, Javed decides the only way to make things happen is by pursuing them, no matter what his family says. Secretly, Javed starts on the path of writing as a career, beginning with the school paper.

Just as Javed is ready to dream big and risk it all for his future, his father Malik loses his job at the local Vauxhall factory, where he has worked loyally for nearly 20 years. Under more pressure than ever to support the family financially, Javed instead focuses on the music of Bruce, writing poetry, and getting an article published in the school paper. His goal is to attend the University of Manchester, and his new pals Roops and Eliza are there to support him.

A teen boy in a denim jacket dances with a teen girl in the middle of a crowd at an outdoor market.

But while Javed is finding his voice as a writer, Malik reminds his son to stay on track to make a decent living. What’s more, Javed’s devotion to Bruce is causing tension between him and Matt, who considers the Boss too American and essentially dad rock. And let’s not overlook the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim bullies in Luton, newly invigorated by an upcoming National Front march in town.

As always seems to be the case, everything of note seems to be happening on one dramatic day: the National Front march, the wedding of Javed’s older sister, and a chance to buy tickets for a Springsteen concert at Wembley Stadium. Where will Javed’s priorities lie when he has to choose between supporting his family and following his own dreams?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really wanted to give this a 4 because it’s such a feel-good film, and our lead, Viveik Kalra, is so cute. His performance as Javed is so charming that I was always rooting for him, even when his character was making irritating decisions.

I’m also such a sucker for a heartwarming coming-of-age story, especially when it comes with a healthy disdain for Thatcherism and white supremacy. And I’m not a huge Springsteen fan, but I could still enjoy the themes relating to music and identity that his work represented here.

However, I found our film a bit too lengthy (nearly 2 hours) and overly devoted to a familiar structure for coming-of-age films.

I did appreciate the hell out of the commentary on immigrant experiences in the 1980s and today. Films that look back with a heavy dose of nostalgia often rub me the wrong way, but this one counterbalanced those feelings by recognizing the socioeconomic and racial tensions still haunting the UK today (and, cough, the US).

But the film’s decision to tell instead of show really annoyed me on a personal level. First, it means that the dramatic moments fell a bit flat in terms of their emotional impact. I will admit that, increasingly, my heart seems to be made of stone–though having Javed make a speech all about how he has developed a more nuanced approach to chasing his dreams while appreciating his family lacked the emotional punch needed. We didn’t actually see him go through this progression onscreen. The plot elements needed to be woven together better so that the action of the film led to this moment, rather than feeling like merely a series of events.

Another disappointment is the development of the supporting characters. I really enjoyed Javed’s relationships with his friends and younger sister, but they (like everyone else in the film) were more or less props for his story. And there was a disagreement between Javed and Matt that I didn’t fully understand–especially when it was ultimately Matt who should have apologized IMHO (though the opposite happened). I did find the romp through town that Javed enjoyed with Roops and Eliza absolutely delightful, though.

At the very least, I’m glad this film put Viveik Kalra on my radar, and I’ll be happy to see him onscreen again. I wouldn’t say no to more of those highly choreographed dance routines either.

Would my blog wife join in with this one’s all-denim dance numbers or fast-forward through the rest of the tracks? Find out in her review!