“Blinded by the Light”

LOUISA:  1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Blinded by the Light” pissed me off so much that I don’t want to listen to Bruce Springsteen ever again.

Yeah, I’m angry.

This monotonous, lazy movie is a textbook example of why you can’t simply pump a film full of beloved pop songs and rely on feel-good nostalgia rather than taking the time to craft a thoughtful screenplay to convey heartfelt emotion. It feels fake, inauthentic, unoriginal, and doesn’t seem to come from a place of sincerity. Perhaps it would’ve worked better as a fantasy.

Set in 1987, teenager Javed (a delightful Viveik Kalra) discovers Bruce Springsteen for the first time and his world is turned upside down. A lover of music and aspiring writer, Javed lives with his two sisters, hardworking mother (Meera Ganatra), and overbearing dad (Kulvinder Ghir). Yearning to escape his hometown and the strict rules of his traditional Pakistani household, the lyrics speak to him with an understanding that no one else seems to have. His 16th birthday wish is to “make loads of money, kiss a girl, and get out of this dump,” and The Boss may inspire him to do just that.

This film takes a sweet idea (that’s based on a true story) and proceeds to beat you over the head with it until you’ll cry out for it to stop. Director Gurinder Chadha treats audiences like they’re stupid, and the real kicker is that viewers willingly sit there and take it. Who falls for this crap? I love music and I love Springsteen, but the majority of my time in the theater was spent with constant eye rolls, face slaps, head shaking, and uncontrollable, inappropriate laughter.

This is coming from a person who loves all genres of music and absolutely understands how art can speak to a person on a much deeper level, as I am often inspired by paintings and prose and films and song. It’s a beautiful sentiment (that’s been done far, far better by others; check out any of John Carney’s films), but here it’s conveyed in the most cheesy way possible. I’ll give you one of the many examples: there’s a scene where Javed’s sister skips school to attend a daytime party so she can “be herself,” telling her brother “when I’m dancing, I block out the world.”

OH MY GOD, MAKE IT STOP!

I suppose I should be thankful that there are several scenes where characters actually speak in song lyrics. Springsteen’s music is great, but here it has magical superpowers that can help kids muster up the courage to stand up to racist bullies and controlling fathers. I’m sure this has happened to many and I’m not arguing against the true force of music to speak to people, but the clichés are hurled fast and furious, like rogue alien forces sent to exploit Earthlings into slopping this junk up with a silver spoon. Whatever overused trope you can imagine, it’s rolled out here. The politically savvy love interest. The authoritarian dad who just doesn’t understand. The supportive war veteran neighbor. The tears-rolling-down-cheeks big finale speech that gosh darn it, makes us all just get along!

Want to talk more about how dumb this movie is? There’s an extended scene of happy people running in slow motion through the streets, singing and dancing along to “Born to Run.” There are more that actually project the song lyrics on the screen, just in case you missed it. This movie is more obvious than the rat in “The Departed” or the feather floating in the wind in “Forrest Gump.”

It’s sad that the film chooses to gloss over the more interesting aspects regarding Pakistani culture and the constant tug of war between the older and younger generation. Much more could’ve been explored by way of and immigrant family’s journey in England and the threat of American culture seeping into traditional ways of life. Instead, the bulk of the movie is spent kissing Bruce Springsteen’s ass. There’s no real story or payoff either, just that some random fanboy finally met his idol.

The charming cast tries their best (admittedly, Kalra gives a delightful, breakout performance), but they are the only bright spots in this steaming pile of manipulative horseshit.

13 comments

    1. I wouldn’t listen to this negative review – this movie has charm, emotion and helps you feel what main character felt during a time of struggle. Of note, I was a teenager during the 80’s and loved seeing 80’s (bad) fashion and hair for a laugh… Hope you see it! Cheers!

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      1. Hi Salina, thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I, too, was a teen of the 80s and am still a huge Springsteen fan. I know many people love the movie, but it just didn’t work for me. Have you seen “Once,” “Begin Again,” or “Sing Street”? I think they tell a much better story in a much more entertaining way.

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  1. I saw this last night, thinking that with the subject being Springsteen and the movie having a 90% Rotten Tomatoes score, I couldn’t go wrong. You captured my reaction perfectly! Your review was far more funny than the movie (you know, in the parts where it was SUPPOSED to be funny). I hate being a curmudgeon, but man, did it suck. Thanks for echoing my thoughts in such a clever fashion😊

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  2. There’s an extended scene of happy people running in slow motion through the streets, singing and dancing along to “Born to Run.” …. ITS WORSE THAN THAT… He was listening to the song through his headphones so NOBODY ELSE SINGING AND DANCING ALONG WAS HEARING THE MUSIC. thank you for this review. I hated it.

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  3. A 16 year old is ecstatic to become aware of the reality of his own lived experience by listening to Springsteen. That ecstasy becomes magical realist fantasy scenes. The film’s corniness is knowing – many 16 year olds’ ecstatic experiences are corny commonplaces, but ecstatic for them, or you or me when first having them. But right now his real life, complex experiences will take a back seat to this new ecstasy as he reports on the hope and modeling he’s getting from Springsteen’s writing about such experiences. His movie-ending speech shows him integrating what he’s learning from Springsteen to deepen his writing about his father’s relationship with him.
    Springsteen has said that at some point he realized he really wasn’t “hip” and he was ok with that. He is sincere and honest and authentic. This movie’s director and memoirist/screenwriter’s sincerity as real Springsteen fans enable them to dramatize that this honesty and authenticity can take root in a new fan to set him on his own creative journey. But they show us this starts with the intense born again experience that transforms and sustains him for the long haul. That’s the payoff I, and others it seems, felt and saw. This kind of joy comes out looking silly sometimes, so maybe hip and sophisticated aren’t Springsteen’s or this movie’s strong suits. But what seems magical and fun/silly to my tastes can easily feel phony and stupid to yours. These moviegoers took that risk and seem to have found some of us sympatico.

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  4. Addendum to above: The last sentence should read “movie makers”, not “moviegoers.”
    The “cheesy” scene about the teenager going out dancing so she can “be herself” seems like a real cliche thing a teenager would say, no? And she’d mean it. Maybe I’m too old if I think that. But the movie seems to believe she means it, even if it’s obviously a cheesy thing to say.I
    I loved Once so I was apprehensive about Blinded being cheesy/corny film making. By knowingly expressing the over-the-top intensity of teenager and fan experiences through over-the-top film scenes it also mimicked Springsteen’s own flair-for- the-dramatic and intense performing style. It’s all redeemed because the movie and Springsteen give us a wink while taking everything they’re on about with utmost seriousness. Even if it’s scenes that have been happening since Adam raised a Cain..

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  5. Thank you for your review! You hit the bullseye!
    Disclaimer: I’m not a Bruce Springsteen fan…but don’t have negative feelings about him or his music either.
    I walked out of the movie about halfway through…and sitting through this much was a chore! Not sure which was harder to stomach, the overly earnest attempt at conveying how profound and life-altering Springsteen’s music and lyrics can be, or the suffocating, cloying sentimentality! Viewers can be excused for feeling a need to shower afterwards to wash off the saccharine! The joy expressed by the characters seems forced. Even the conflicts, which stem from very real life dilemmas, feel contrived. The song lyrics displayed on screen accompanying the music to illustrate how impactful they are to the lead character are heavy-handed and laughable. Not the intended effect, I’m sure! We’re encouraged to believe Javed is a sensitive, gifted, insightful, talented writer, but the film gives little evidence to support this. Instead he comes across as a rather run of the mill ( and understandably) frustrated teenager. A nice enough fellow, sure, but extraordinary? Several of the actors are likable but their characters appear two-dimensional and never fully realized. Two words spring to mind in describing this movie: clichéd and formulaic. The film can be somewhat compared to the type of person once known as a “goody-two shoes”…well-intentioned in a misguided way to the degree of annoyance! If there’s such a thing as a feel-too-good movie this is it! Too much heart, too few brains!

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