When I first heard about Blinded By The Light, a film based on the music of Bruce Springsteen, I assumed it would be based on his life story, as told relatively recently in his autobiography Born To Run.
When it then transpired it was actually a comedy drama set in England I was less enthusiastic but as I heard it was based in the late 1980s on a true story and looked like it might share some similarities with Pride I decided it was certainly worth a try.
From the start I’ll make it clear… it’s no Pride (few films are), but what we do get, from the people that gave us Bend It Like Beckham (including director Gurinder Chadha), is a coming of age story that paints a vivid picture of small town life in late 80s England for a Pakistani Muslim teenager.
From the start the tone feels slightly off with a sense that a lot of different ideas are being thrown at the screen and only some of them are sticking.
The story combines a fairly standard coming of age tale as we follow Javed (Viveik Kalra) from school into college and see how his life shifts when compared to that of his childhood friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) with the added tribulations of growing up in a Pakistani Muslim family in Luton.
As well as this we get a streak of social commentary that pulls in everything from the National Front to Thatcherite unemployment and a few twists on the usual kind of identity issues addressed in most Hollywood coming of age movies.
Stylistically it’s also not quite sure if it wants to be naturalistic or have a fantastical edge and, when it does delve into fantasy, it never quite commits to it enough to work properly — on top of which it all goes a bit too show and tell at times making its points a little too obvious and both over simplified and over explained (though it does contain one genuinely quite shocking scene in terms of race issues).
Despite all this though it is a very enjoyable film, particularly when the music kicks in.
In fact the scene where Javed first listens to ‘The Boss’, as the 1987 hurricane hits Luton, is tremendous and shows the film does have a real sense of inspiration buried beneath the surface as the lyrics of the songs blasting from Javed’s Walkman (a hit of pure nostalgia for some of us) are projected on the walls of his home estate as the literal and metaphorical storm rages around him.
As it went on I got the feeling that the slightly simplified world view is because we are seeing the world from Javed’s perspective, that of a teenage boy, though I still think the ultimate aim of this ‘tidying up’ of the serious side is to help it appeal to a wider audience.
That said one scene in particular involving an NF march does show how genuinely tense and dangerous such situations could be.
In the end then Blinded By The Light is a mixed bag of a film but one that is, almost despite itself, ultimately successful thanks to the sense of heart it contains (possibly down to its real life source, the book Greetings From Bury Park) and it is, in a way, rather like the music it champions as it does manage to say something (albeit rather simply) but within the medium of something ultimately populist.
Oh and within this context the songs sound tremendously vibrant, possibly even more so than they do on record thanks to the ‘innocent’ ears with which Javed hears them.
Here’s the trailer as I usually try to include, however a warning on this its one of those ones the pretty much shows you the whole film so be warned… here be some spoilers…