“Yesterday” set a very high bar when it comes to films depicting legendary music and, unfortunately, “Blinded by the Light” couldn’t even come close.
Viveik Kalra stars as Javed, a Pakistani teen living in England in the mid-80’s whose life is dictated by his family’s traditions. Needless to say, he’s an insecure boy who doesn’t fit in, but he and his family are also a target of hate crimes and harassment. When he discovers “The Boss,” his world changes; he finds a sense of independence and new goal of writing his way out of this crummy little town.
The premise is promising and if you’re a Bruce Springsteen fan, the story sounds idyllic. And that’s the issue with the film. Even though it’s based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s own life, it all looks and feels very contrived and artificial, almost as if we are watching a stage production instead.
The story has very little narrative arc, dragging us along, going through all the predicted possibilities and emotions set up in each scene. The heart of the film barely pulses through this narrative creating a flat-lined film almost from the beginning.
“Blinded by the Light” does, however, expertly create the mid-80’s, bringing you back in time to the era of shoulder pads, big hair, flipped collars, and exaggerated make-up. There’s also a keen sense of an era in Britain when the political and economic unrest filtered down into the population, stirring up violence and protests.
Recalling history and realizing what is still happening around the world and in the U.S. is of utmost value. Creating issues like this in the film and then breaking into song as if it’s a new version of “High School Musical” just doesn’t fit.
Tackling issues of racism, friendship, independence, family, and first love as well as how immigrants assimilate into a foreign land and hold on to culture is an arduous task. And while the writers attempted to insert moments of humor, the balance wasn’t there due to timing and/or editing.
As my film-going friend stated, “It’s like a 1993 Disney television movie” and nothing sums it up better than that.
The film punctuates the power of music, no matter the genre and no matter the generation. If you’re not a fan of Springsteen or could never really hear what he was saying, you’re in luck with this film as the song’s lyrics are spelled out for you in a very novel way.
The film, overall, becomes an overwhelming homage to the singer/songwriter and feels more like a bizarre obsession than a coming of age story for a young Pakistani boy in Britain.
Performances, while adequate, don’t engage the viewer, never allowing you to connect with any of the characters. With over-exaggerated and prolonged expressions, it was as subtle as a sledgehammer. The film struggled with identity; knowing whether it was a musical, a drama, or a play all made for television back in the day.
Perhaps if “Yesterday” had not preceded the release of “Blinded by the Light,” my expectations wouldn’t have been so high, but this film truly disappoints. And as it does highlight topics about equality, hatred, and racism, it’s difficult to not recommend the film, but alas I cannot.