'Blinded By The Light' is the most feel-good and first real good film of 2019. Directed by Gurinder Chadha, who pulled off a similar feat in 2002 with 'Bend It Like Beckham', this is not just a male version of that tale.
Yes, it is a coming of age tale. Yes, it deals with the child of immigrants trying to establish their own identity away from their family in the culture of their birth nation. But this movie goes deeper and is not prepared to gloss over racism and the downside of economic recession.
Because the picture depicts the hardships of these experiences, the joy the characters eke out for themselves, the communities they grow and the resilience they display resonates far more.
In 1987 Luton (just outside of London), Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra) is the only son of Pakistani-Muslim parents with a father who works at the local Vauxhall Motors assembly line.
Javed doesn’t have a lot going on when a classmate Roops (Aaron Phagura) slips him a cassette tape of Bruce Springsteen. The Boss is sooooo 1985 for the majority of their peers, with parents and teachers more excited about Javed’s interest in the singer-songwriter.
Javed, however, finds a philosophy in the lyrics of Springsteen and the supercharged music that radicalises his heart and stirs his soul. Like the narrator of ‘The Promised Land’, Javed sets forth to take moments into his hands.
What follows is a familiar coming of age story: frayed friendships, familial tensions and blossoming romances. But the fresh perspective and the winning heart of the picture makes ‘Blinded By The Light’ a genre highlight. There is nuance in the writing and performances that makes you smile in recognition and well-up with emotion.
Perhaps because the story is based on the real life of journalist and co-writer Sarfraz Manzoor, the immigrant father is not just a blowhard who doesn’t get his teenage son, and his mother is not just a deferential housewife. There are two scenes well played by Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra that speak volumes about their marriage and the hopes and dreams they carry for their children.
This is a movie that belongs to the kids though, and in Viveik they find a leading man that carries the whole film, yet always seems like a regular teenager finding his voice. There is a moment where he serenades his crush Eliza (Nell Williams) to the tune of ‘Thunder Road’ and director Gurinder lights and frames him anew highlighting the character’s growth.
There are so many wonderful touches in this movie; it revels in the music of this legendary artist, has a wonderful sense of humour, and reminds what it was like to be in a hurry to grow up, fall in love and move away.
Javed will go far. Already by the end of the film, he’s gone far enough to realise that his family will always matter to him; there wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema. This is one of the year’s best.