Tuesday, December 10, 2019

This Gun's for Hire

Warner Bros. Pictures
Review: Blinded by the Light (dir. Gurinder Chadha, 2019)

I am someone who loves. Full stop. It is hard to be a "critic" when you are that way. I have trouble being snarky or controversial. I have to actually try hard to not be nice about the movies, books, and songs I watch, read, or listen to. I love them all, and, honestly, I have the luxury of avoiding those media that I feel I might not like, so I do. With movies, I seek out what's driving the conversation of the moment and pounce, and the ones that don't feel as well-received I avoid.


I say all this because I knew I would love Blinded by the Light while I watched the trailer for the first time at some point last summer. English teen, from a family of Pakistani immigrants, falls in love with the words (and music) of Bruce Springsteen? Movie was made for me, I thought. And it's confirmed. It's a gem.

Javed (Viveik Kalra) is the kind of teenager I was...wanting to be cool, to get the girl, to fit in (my weight and self-esteem are what made me feel outside), and I found solace in song lyrics, wrote everything I wrote in adoration of the thing, and, unlike Javed, I never really found my way out of that until I was in my mid-20s (at least) and even now (at 35), I struggle to criticize even the books I don't like as such in my weekly discussion posts as part of the graduate Seminar in American Lit course I'm in this semester. It's because I love everything. I do see the good, where I don't see it other places, particularly in myself.

Warner Bros. Pictures
Blinded by the Light taught me something about myself, as I expected it would given my own love for 1980s pop culture and The Boss. Javed's life is not what he wants, as we expect going in...this is a story that has been told countless times in countless ways. His father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) is that type of father who believes that success is getting a good job that puts food on the table and keeps the lights on and the only jobs that can pull that off are lawyer, banker, estate agent, etc. Malik is a recently laid-off auto worker. His wife Noor (Meera Ganatra) has to take on extra sewing and mending to help out. Javed's sisters wait to be married off. And what little work Javed can find offers an extra few bucks into the family's coffers. That Javed's suburb of Luton is experiencing a wave of white nationalistic attitudes towards immigrants like his father and family only adds a perfect here and now for today's white westerner.

Javed is lost. He wants to be a writer and has kept a journal every year of his life for a decade, now heading into his 17th year, but he knows writing is not a possibility in his future. But magic happens. A new friend Roops (Aaron Phagura), jean jacket clad, gives him the keys to the kingdom of himself, Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA and Darkness on the Edge of Town on cassette tape. And he goes for it anyway, following the English path in his 6th Form A-Levels, behind his father's back. He impresses his English professor (the always lovely Hailey Atwell). He starts succeeding. He is living a lie. We know the rest.

But when movies do familiar things well, when they add just a little extra, we get to see why we love these tropes so much all over again. The movie pulsates with Springsteen's lyrical genius. Director Gurinda Chadha (of Bend It Like Beckham fame) creates space for small music video-esque set pieces where words flash around screen, fly around Javed's head, and enter our consciousness. The cheesy sequence where Javed, Roops, and Javed's new girlfriend, the liberal activist Eliza (Nell Williams) dance through the streets of Luton to "Born to Run" is the sort of thing I didn't even realized I live for. I sang along, and might've even if I'd seen this film at a theater. It's just that good, and the movie is full of these breaks to the monotony of the routine plot.

In the end, this movie is about love. Full stop. It's about doing what you love, following your dreams, finding truth, and, actually, it's not about hero worship at all. It's about taking your heroes into your life and synthesizing their words (in this case) and using them as fuel to live a life for yourself that includes everyone in your life. After all, Springsteen constantly wrote about the struggles of life in a small town (what hooks us all in the first place, including Javed), but his words say more about the simple beauty of that life than they do in encouraging one to burn bridges and leave everything behind.

★★★★1/2

Screened at home on Blu-Ray from Redbox. 

4 comments:

  1. I've heard great things about this film as this looks like the kind of film that I want to show my mom as she does like Bend It Like Beckham a lot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's such a nice little gem! Show it to Mom for sure.

      Delete
  2. Great review! I have this in my Netflix queue as I missed it in theaters. I'm not a huge Springsteen fan myself, but I don't think that will make me enjoy it any less.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! It may even make you a Springsteen fan.

      Delete