Musical Youth

Based on a true story, Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded By The Light is inspired by the life of Guardian journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, who also co-wrote the script. Taken from his memoir Greetings From Bury Park, it is not a story of a hard-bitten news hack working their way up from a local rag to national news. Rather, it’s a coming-of-age tale about how much music enriches the soul.

Set in Luton in 1987, it focuses on Javed (Viveik Kalra), whose world is turned upside down when a friend presses cassettes into his hand – albums by Bruce Springsteen. The Boss’ New Jersey origins may be a world away from Bedfordshire, but Javed instantly relates to his lyrics, even while others at school think Springsteen is old hat compared to what’s current in the charts.

Chadha’s 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham shows just how good she can be with crowd-pleasing stories. Blinded By The Light – the sort of movie you can see being cued up to be a West End musical in a couple of years – has those same earnest ambitions, though it arguably tries too hard at times to pluck our heartstrings.

Kalra – who also appeared in this year’s Chadha-directed ITV drama Beecham House – is a charming presence, playing the sort of introspective teenager it’s easy to root for. Chadha’s depiction of 1980s Luton, while far too heavy on the hair gel and loud fashions, also hits hard when there are scenes of a National Front demonstration.

Less successful are the musical interludes – cringe-worthy montages that accompany Springsteen’s music and reduce the power of his grass-roots sound. Casting choices also grate, like Rob Brydon as the market-stall owner father to Javed’s friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman). Hayley Atwell as Javed’s ‘inspirational’ Robin William-style teacher also feels an ill fit.

For all its flaws, though, Blinded By The Light has sincerity to it and there’s something to be said for a story that upfronts a British-Pakistani teenager. How often has that happened? Still, while Springsteen has been a supporter of the film – and there are some cute photos at the end of Manzoor with The Boss – you can’t help but wish his songs were somehow better integrated.

Blinded By The Light opens on 9 August. For more details, visit Entertainment One Films.

James Mottram

Lead Image: Still from Blinded by the Light. Courtesy of Entertainment One.