Gurinder Chadha (BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM) returns to our screens with what is being marketed as a feel-good movie - BLINDED BY THE LIGHT. It's based on the memoirs of Sarfraz Mahmood, a second gen British-Pakistani growing up in the racially violent and economically distressed Luton of the 1980s. If there's not enough to deal with outside the safety of his home, inside he has to deal with issues many second gen immigrants face - how to live an assimilated life, fulfilling one's own dreams, while still honouring the values and dreams of the first gen who sacrificed so much for our success. I say "our" because this is a milieu - and indeed a specific time and place - that I know very well. And I can say that the authenticity that Chadha and Mansoor capture in how our families spoke to each other and hoped and dreamed and were thwarted is spot on - and so close to the bone it provoked a really violent reaction in me. I think that's because it's so rare to see any kind of explicit racial violence on screen that so clearly depicts the British history that we lived through that the film drove a moment of raw catharsis. So it wasn't feel good for me, but that's okay, because it's deep political conscience is really admirable and much needed.
That said, before the raw emotion overcame me, I have to say this really was and is a lovely and feel good film. Firstly because Chadha and her production designers so beautifully capture small-town English towns of the 80s - including long-gone but much-lived shops like Athena and Our Price - all those fantastic clothes and songs - the ever-present Walkman headphones - and that specific joy of handing over your favourite cassette or VHS tape to a friend. Because that's what happens in this film. Our protagonist Javed (Viveik Khalra - sympathetic and charismatic) is feeling miserable under the pressures at home and outside until his new friend Roops gives him a tape of the then unfashionable Bruce Springsteen. He wonders what an American rocker can say that's relevant to him until he listens to the lyrics and realises that working class angst is global, and that seeing your father's dreams crushed by economic reality is deeply relatable. So the music in this film is superb and energetic before Springsteen makes an entrance but reaches another level when he does. The way in which Chadha uses CGI to superimpose the lyrics on scenes, or pivots action around an inspiring lyric is just superb. There's a lot of love and respect and understanding of Springsteen's work in there.
The film is also just straightforwardly funny - helped by some lovely cameos from comedians such as Rob Brydon, Sally Phillips (Char-DON-nay), Marcus Brigstock and Olivia Poulet. My only criticism is that it could've more fully embraced its genre - at least for a central music scene that's full of joy and energy but could've been truly superb with a little more careful choreography. But these are all small concerns. Because BLINDED BY THE LIGHT is a truly lovely joyous film that masks a provocative and brutally honest heart about the immigrant experience. It deserves to be seen as widely as possible.
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT has a running time of 117 minutes and is rated PG-13. It played Sundance 2019 and will be released in the UK on August 9th and in the USA on August 14th.
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