Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra) is the only son of his Pakistani father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), an obedient boy who is beginning to chafe against life in Luton and Thatcher's England in 1987. His dad wants him to get a good job at a time when many are losing theirs and would never understand J's dream of becoming a writer. He writes daily in the journal given to him by his best friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman, "The Commuter") and also composes poems and lyrics for Matt's 80's new wave synth band. Then, everything comes into sharp focus for Javed when Roops (Aaron Phagura), a Sikh classmate, presses two Bruce Springsteen cassettes on him and Javed is "Blinded by the Light."
The third musical based on a rock star to come down the pike this year is all the more disappointing for coming from "Bend It Like Beckham's" producer/director Gurinder Chadha, who cowrote the script with Paul Mayeda Berges and Sarfraz Manzoor, whose memoir the film is based on. Despite an astounding number of similarities between this and Chadha's 2003 film, "Blinded by the Light" fails to make the case that Springsteen's lyrics would so mirror the experience of an English Pakistani teen they would catapult him into his desired writing career the way "Beckham's" female Indian soccer fan's obsession ably did. "Light" has too many characters and too many subplots to sustain its throughline momentum, making for an intermittently entertaining but ultimately tedious experience.
Like "Beckham's" Jess, Javed has traditional parents who object to his passion, an elder sister getting married, a white British friend and white British romantic interest and lives in a neighborhood of cramped semi-detached homes. He's also got an encouraging teacher, Miss Clay (Hayley Atwell, Marvel's Peggy Carter), who will enter him into a writing competition, economic worries when his dad loses his job, a local DJ Colin Hand (Frankie Fox) who looks down on Springsteen, a younger sister Shazia (Nikita Mehta) with a secret social life, local racists, a fellow fan in Matt's dad (Rob Brydon) which will cause a rift with his friend and a WWII veteran neighbor, Mr. Evans (David Hayman,
"Sid and Nancy"), who turns out to be a surprising source of encouragement. Throw in a trip to New Jersey, an aborted trip to London, a summer newspaper internship and conflict over college and what we've got is one overstuffed 117 minutes. It even takes quite a bit of running time to get to Javed's obsession, Roop's cassettes rattling around in J's backpack for so long we wonder why he hasn't asked for their return. You'd think all this content would make the film zip along but instead it's like the filmmakers promise to drive from Luton to London, then get off at every highway exit along the way.
Chadha alternately equates the Boss's words to Javed's life in quiet moments with animated lyrics swirling around him and stages big song and dance numbers around the town of Luton. 'Thunder Road' turns into a serenade for love interest Eliza (Nell Williams) at Matt's dad's market stalls while she, J and Roops are joined by residents across town for a 'Born to Run' dance number that wends its way out to the highway exit where the movie began.
These moments are joyful and fun, but other parts of the film bog down. Hayman's Mr. Evans is an unexpected and delightful touch, yet the considerably more screen time given to Colin Hand could have easily been cut, lending little to the film but a jab at pop star Tiffany. We've seen the climax, where a concerned mother (an affecting Meera Ganatra) intercedes between husband and son, before. J's climactic reading of the essay which won him a trip to the U.S. and a newspaper internship is seriously underwhelming, leaving us to ponder the words of an earlier pop singer, 'Is that all there is?'
Robin did not see this film.
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