Based on a memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor (who co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Mayeda Berges and director Gurinder Chadha), Blinded by the Light masks its autobiographical nature under the guise of Javed (Viveik Kalra), a British sixteen-year-old of Pakistani descent in a small English town in 1987.
He has trouble finding a girlfriend, finds himself on the receiving end of both casual and aggressive racism as fascism is on the rise in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, and has a domineering father (Kulvinder Ghir) who seems more concerned with being right than ever stopping to listen to what Javed wants or needs.
As a story about a singular protagonist and his narrow perception of the world, it occasionally struggles to keep the multiple subplots of Javed’s life equally engaging and wholly significant, but Kalra’s turn as Javed is relatably likable enough to justify the film’s tangential excesses.
The unique spark of the film comes less from the music of Bruce Springsteen itself, though, than from the evocative feelings the film conveys through Javed.
Admittedly, the film’s over-reliance on drawing parallels between Springsteen’s lyrics and the events of Javed’s life can be grating, but it’s also emblematic of how a teenager relates to art and alternately uses it as a vessel for their own ego and a machine to find empathy for others.
If that were Blinded by the Light’s only trick, it would grow entirely stale, but thankfully it finds an empathetic center in an extremely nuanced performance from Kulvinder Ghir, who subtly transforms Javed’s father from borderline stereotypical domestic tyrant to a complex and conflicted human being in a manner that reflects both Javed’s more well-rounded perception of the man and his own growth in parallel to his son’s.
As a teen comedy, it’s fairly standard - charming and digestible and will surely be formative and valuable for some while the rest of us catalog it with the many other similar films we’ve already seen.