Sundance 2019: Blinded by the Light

Viveik Kalra, Nell Williams and Aaron Phagura appear in Blinded by the Light by Gurinder Chadha, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nick Wall.

Aided by the sounds of singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen, Gurinder Chadha’s crowd-pleasing Blinded by the Light is rocking good time.

Javed (Viveik Kalra) stands in for real-life journlist Sarfraz Manzoor in telling the story of a Pakistani Brit in Luton who became a Bruce Springsteen super fan in 1987.  Springsteen’s music played a tremendous role in helping the writer to find his voice.  He was someone who exercised his creativity by way of poetry without his family finding out.  Things change when he starts taking Ms. Clay’s (Hayley Atwell) class.  It’s in the same class where he meets the politically active Eliza (Nell Williams).

His best friend is Matt (Dean Charles Chapman)–a musician who lives nearby–but Javed’s life changes when another Pakistani Brit, Roops (Aaron Phagura) lends him two Bruce Springsteen tapes.  He doesn’t start listening to the tapes until the same night that a storm is occurring.  It’s around the same time that Javed is at rock bottom.  His father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), recently got laid off by the factory so his mother and family have to pick up the rest of the slack.  Yet here Javed is opening up placing Born in the USA into a cassette tape player and listening to “Dancing in the Dark.”  Javed’s poems had already blown all over the place outside and while he retrieves most of them, one about the NF Scum found its way to Mr. Evans (David Hayman).

Blinded by the Light isn’t an outright musical but there are so many song selections that one can’t help but find themselves wanting to sing and dance along.  It takes a while before any of Bruce Springsteen’s songs start showing up but when they do, it’s fast and furious.  It’s hard to resist the urge to rock out once they start playing.  I’ll admit to tapping my foot and leg while during the Sundance screening in hopes of not disturbing the filmmaker sitting to my left.  In any event, the following Springsteen songs show up according to my notes:

  • Dancing in the Dark
  • Promised Land
  • Badlands
  • Cover Me
  • Thunder Road
  • Darkness on the Edge of Town
  • Prove It All Night
  • Born to Run
  • Hungry Heart
  • Because the Night
  • Jungleland
  • Blinded by the Light
  • Independence Day

That’s a total of 13 Springsteen songs.  In fairness, both “Promised Land” and “Born to Run” recur more than once.  You can’t not take your eyes off of the screen when the songs start up.  The filmmakers have  a great way of framing this film to the lyrics of Bruce’s songs.  They aren’t selecting hit songs just to have a hit song.  There’s a reason for why these songs are being placed where they are.  They have to feel like they’re pushing the narrative forward.

“Born to Run” has a very fun set piece to match the song’s tone.  It’s a piece that sees our stars dancing above the highway when “The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive” is heard.  Aside from “Born to Run,” the most fun is had during “Thunder Road.”  The song becomes a song-and-dance number in the market with Matt’s dad (Rob Brydon).

Thematically speaking, what takes place on screen during the songs is honestly a great fit for Springsteen’s lyrics.  Take “Badlands” for example.  It’s a great fit for being the soundtrack to a job search with over 3 million Brits unemployed.

Who would have ever thought that a Pakistani Brit would have such an interest in the American Dream?  Certainly not me!  In any event, Javed finds himself listening to and singing along to the great New Jersey rabbi, Bruce Springsteen.  Okay, we know that Springsteen is not Jewish (Adam Sandler already told us!) and this film continually reminds us of the fact.

Credit to Chadha and casting director for the discoveries of both  Viveik Kalra and Nell Williams.  Both display a great amount of chemistry together.  Make no mistake that these two are going to have a bright future ahead of them.

Blinded by the Light has Bruce Springsteen’s blessing and rightfully so because it honors the great music he’s given us over several decades.

DIRECTOR:  Gurinder Chadha
SCREENWRITERS: Sarfraz Manzoor, Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges
CAST:  Viveik Kalra, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Kulvinder Ghir, Nell Williams, Aaron Phagura

Blinded by the Light held its world premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres section. New Line Cinema acquired distribution. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.