Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Review: "Blinded By The Light" is a charming celebration of Springsteen's work, and much more

Blinded By The Light Review
There are two movies playing in 2019 about an Asian man learning life lessons through the music of a legendary rocker. While I thought "Yesterday" was sincere, but ultimately too cute and didn't embrace the fun of its premise. "Blinded By The Light" is a much more grounded tale, and I think it works better in that way as well.

The movie revolves around Javed (Viveik Kalra) a Pakistani teenager living with his immigrant family in smalltown England in 1987. At the height of racial strife in the country, Javed wants so much to be a writer, which greatly upsets his father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir). He writes poems and lyrics for a good friend of his, but the friend complains that his words are too depressing. Javed moves into a new school and feels awkward in it. He is only one of two Asian students, but he does quickly befriend the other Roops. Roops is a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, and when Javed listens to a little Springsteen, he is inspired by what he hears. 

What's especially remarkable about "Blinded By The Light" is how it highlights how art inspires us. Sometimes its a song you hear on the radio, or a movie you watch in the theater, or a book you read at home. All of this has the power to bring something out of all of us that we didn't realize we had in us. Art can always be so much more than entertainment, art is a reflection of us, it possesses things that we can all relate to. How we choose to handle those relations is up to us. Of course we all need and want different things from our pop culture, but that's why different things inspire different people. I personally don't care from "Twilight," but if that series inspires a young girl to write a classic series of our time, then that is truly amazing.

It seems like Javed has floodgates that open deep inside of him, and he quickly becomes a star writer at his school. He is pushed by his English teacher Mrs. Clay (Hayley Atwell), and Springsteen's music not only pushes Javed to be a better writer, but brings him the confidence to ask out his crush, to stand up to racist bigots, and to be a better person. That's another thing about music, it can bring out the best in all of us. That's what this movie is really about. Finding the confidence we have in all of us. Eventually Javed confronts his father about the kind of man he really wants to be, and that's one of the conflicts that drives the film. It may sound cliche, a young man with great ambitions being tied down by the traditions and needs of the parents. But its handled with realism and care in this movie. 

Some people think that this might only appeal to Bruce Springsteen fans. That's not exactly true, not to me at least. As much as "Yesterday" was the greatest hits of the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen being the center of this universe is actually irrelevant. Springsteen is just the artist used to bring forth the true ideas of the movie (although it is based on a true story). I think the movie gets its ideas across very well and you don't need to be a Springsteen fan in order to really like this movie.

The film is brought to life by a terrific ensemble. Kalra is a revelation here, and he plays Javed as a real person. He's got all the quirks and ticks of a teenage boy, but never comes off one-note or not grounded. Its a great performance. Aaron Phagura is very funny as Roops, the friend that gets Javed into Springsteen. Nell Williams plays Eliza, the eventual love interest of Javed. Their romance isn't cringy or cheesy, it feels very real.

Whether you like Springsteen or not or if you've even heard of him, that doesn't matter. This is a charming little movie that everyone will be able to relate to. It might get a little long near the end and it features some familiar cliches. But overall, this is a gracious, elegant movie. It will make you laugh and it will tug on your heart strings. But it will also lift you up, just like your favorite song.

FINAL GRADE: B+

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