BLINDED BY THE LIGHT
two and a half out of four stars
Logical offshoots of the traditional rock music bio-pic, two movies about regular people inspired by their Rock ‘n’ Roll idols have come out this summer and neither lived up their prerelease hype.
The first was “Yesterday” where a struggling singer woke up after a freak accident and realized he was the only person on the planet who had ever heard of the Beatles. The premise and music were great but the story itself was full of holes and went nowhere, man.
“Blinded by the Light” is similar to “Yesterday” on a few levels, the least being its almost full-time reliance on classic rock songs to occupy time and take up valuable narrative space. Both are set in England and feature British-born Indian male actors as the leads. Each of these guys is eminently likeable and charming and pulls off what they’ve been asked to do by their respective filmmakers. But affability and talent can’t overcome a thin and spotty story.
Rather than the fantasy framing of “Yesterday,” “Blinded by the Light” is based on true story; adapted from the biographical “Welcome to Bury Park” by journalist Sarfraz Manzoor (portrayed here by Viveik Kalra as Javed). Living under the thumb of a traditional Eastern and autocratic – yet unemployed - father and a passive/aggressive, put-upon mother, the culturally conflicted Javed is a budding poet, lives in close proximity to skinheads and is thoroughly petrified of girls.
Javed’s life path swings northward after his English teacher (Hayley Atwell) recognizes his talent and fellow Muslim student (who is also a Sikh) Roops (Aaron Phagura) turns him on to the music of Bruce Springstee. Javed’s father regularly and mistakenly (for “comic” effect) identifies Springsteen as being Jewish. For the record, Springsteen was born Catholic and is of Dutch, Irish and Italian ancestry.
Things get even better when Javed connects with classmate Eliza (Nell Williams), a girl dressed as if she was a background performer in a Culture Club video – which is apropos considering the setting, time (the late ‘80s) and location of the story. While dining with her parents at their home, Eliza’s father pours Javed some wine right after Eliza informs him that Muslims aren’t permitted to drink alcohol. It’s just one of many other lame stabs at cultural and racial-shaming humor distributed throughout film.
“Blinded by the Light” is the 12th feature film from Kenyan-born Indian director Gurinder Chadha, who co-wrote the screenplay with her husband Paul Mayeda Berges and Manzoor. Best known for her 2002 crowd-pleaser “Bend it Like Beckham,” Gurinder specializes in British-based, fish-out-of-water dramedies where Muslim Indians have difficulties acclimating to Western/European culture.
A razor-thin genre to be sure, but one that is also significant in our often turbulent modern times where immigration – legal or otherwise - has become a hot-button issue on both sides of the political aisle.
For better or worse, the filmmakers decide to include multiple scenes involving English white supremacists railing against Indian and Pakistani immigrants which, while actually taking place at the time, add little to the main plot and will likely prove to be an unwanted distraction to the target (mostly romantic comedy female) demographic.
The trailer includes snippets of two musical-flavored scenes; you know where people break into song and dance for no reason whatsoever. The one with “Born to Run” blaring with anthemic grandeur works best while “Thunder Road” set in an open-air market far less so. Technically what the performers are doing could be described as “dancing,” that is if you consider running and jumping in the air dancing.
For Springsteen fans – another demographic that will see the movie mostly out of curiosity and obligation – there’s nothing in the film they haven’t already heard before. The closest filmmakers get to including “deep album cuts” is “I’ll Stand By You,” an abbreviated version of “Jungleland” and three slightly different versions of “The Promised Land.” Otherwise Chadha sticks with the tried and true hits including “Cover Me,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Hungry Heart,” “Badlands” and the title song.
For a movie coming out in August, you could do much worse than “Blinded by the Light” which is far from high praise. At 114 minutes, it’s longer than it should be but if you do go be sure to stick around for at least the beginning of the end credits for a few of those cutesy “where are they now” updates.
If you like the premise of this film but want something with a bit more grit and bite, you might want check out Alan Parker’s “The Commitments” from 1991. Set in Ireland, it features a dozen or so street-wise types all in love with late ‘60s era American Soul who form a popular bar band.
(New Line/Warner Bros.)