Blinded by the Light

Blinded by the Light ★★★½

In many ways, Blinded by the Light is much like Michael Showalter's The Big Sick. Both tell stories of sons of Pakistani immigrant parents, who find themselves caught between the traditional values of their families and the contrasting individualistic society they have been born into. This tensions is heightened when both sons want to pursue careers in the creative arts, much to their parents' chagrin, who have toiled for their children to have a better life pursuing careers of being doctors, engineers, and lawyers, but God forbid - comedy? poetry? What both films succeed in doing is giving a balanced portrayal of the challenges both generations face, honouring one without devaluing or trivializing the other. While I think The Big Sick is the better film, Blinded by the Light still manages to capture the powerful effect that music has on us and its ability to speak to us across cultural divides.

I never grew up listening to Bruce Springsteen and his lyrics have never truly resonated with me, but Gurinder Chadha revitalizes the Boss' music through the story of Javed, a Pakistani growing up in the turbulent Thatcher era in Luton, England. It is the 80s now, and for the most part, Bruce Springsteen is old news, eclipsed by the pounding synths of new wave. Much like Sing Street (another film I adore more than this one), both films use music as a vehicle for yearning to escape the relational and political turmoil of everyday life, fixed on horizons of possibility. Javed's meets a Sikh named Roops, who gives him a cassette tapes of the Boss' albums Born in the U.S.A. and Darkness on the Edge of Town. In something much akin to a conversion, Javed has a divine experience where Springsteen's lyrics literally come roaring to life, like a hurricane blowing into his neighbourhood, enrapturing him. From this point on, Javed's journey to find his voice begins, with Springsteen as his guide.

If it wasn't for Blinded by the Light's sheer enthusiasm, conviction, and deep love for Springsteen, it could have easily fallen flat on its face. The film wavers between heartfelt and cringe-inducingly cheesy, particularly some of the musical numbers, which are well intentioned, but come across as overly sentimental and forced. The majority of the film feels unfocused, but when it finally hones in on its themes of family and Springsteen's music begins to unite two generations together, everything clicks into place. Much like Javel, Bruce was raised by a working class father, was able to pursue his dreams of being an artist, not merely through abandoning his hometown in exchange for something greater, but by drawing on his father's experiences, the experiences of the everyman, to give a distinct voice to his art. Javel's journey of finding his voice does not end in outright rebellion of his family, but instead in discovering the deep connection he shares with his family and his love and appreciation for them.

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