Sundance 2019: 'Blinded by the Light' is Optimistic 80s Springsteen Joy
by Alex Billington
January 28, 2019
This might just be the feel-good film of the year. And it's definitely the best British indie musical since Sing Street. The latest film by Gurinder Chadha (of Bend It Like Beckham, Bride & Prejudice, It's a Wonderful Afterlife, Viceroy's House), titled Blinded by the Light, just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to a well-earned standing ovation and plenty of cheers. This 1980s rock musical inspired by and integrating the music of Bruce Springsteen, will leave you with that euphoric feeling of wonder and happiness. At least that's how I felt as soon as it ended. This joyful, upbeat, optimistic film is about a Pakistani teen living in a small town in Britain in the 80s who instantly falls in love with Springsteen the moment a friend introduces him to his music. As he struggles with family and racism, he lets the music guide him through adolescence.
Set in the late 80s, Blinded by the Light tells the true story of a teen named Javed, who lives with his family in the town of Luton. Director Gurinder Chadha puts all of her effort and energy into making this film feel alive - contextualizing the story with political happenings at the time: a lack of jobs, the rise of racism and neo-Nazis in England, along with all the 80s pop culture we know and love. This is actually a true story, but the way she tells such a joyful, inspiring story about a kid raised in England who some believe is an outsider because of the color of his skin is already a triumph, but she instills it with so much optimism and goodness. It's the kind of film that makes you feel all tingly, and you can't stop smiling at it - leaving the cinema with a huge grin on your face (after maybe shedding a few tears). Because she handles the story with so much care.
One of the most enjoyable parts about Chadha's Blinded by the Light is how it captures and portrays that indescribable feeling of being completely blown away and swept off your feet by music. The performance by young actor Viveik Kalra is extraordinary because it's entirely on him; t's all about his expressions, and the glimmer in his eyes, and the way he moves, and reactions, and respond to the lyrics. In addition, they actually overlay the text of some of the lyrics on screen as he's hearing them - which only further hits home this feeling and just how deep these words connect within him. It is much harder than you think to capture this and turn it into something so stylistic and so deeply satisfying to watch on screen, pulling us into that experience. Even if you're not the biggest Springsteen fan, this film is irresistible - it's easy to love the songs.
During the intro, Chadha explained that she wanted to make a positive film that encourages us to keep our heads up during these trying times. It's a feel-good film because we really need these films nowadays. We need to see stories of immigrants and diversity in the cinema. And not just any immigrant, but a Pakistani family living & working in England, with a son who falls in love with an American musician (and a British girl), expressing himself however he wants. That's truly what this film is about - the universality of music, and the joy of connecting with songs that reach deep inside of you and say what you've wanted to say but can't exactly say. It doesn't matter where you come from, we're all human. There's one incredible "Born to Run" musical sequence in this where they run around & dance around their town and it's the best thing ever.
Alex's Sundance 2019 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing