In 1980s England, the white supremacist National Front is harassing Pakistani immigrants in the midst of recession and unemployment. Surrounded by this cultural backdrop and British new wave music culture, 16-year-old British Pakistani Javed is coming of age.
Javed feels completely on the outside. He is surrounded at school by students exploring what interests them, pursuing romantic relationships, and staking out a place in the world for themselves. Meanwhile, he is expected to zero in on a practical profession, turn over every pound he makes to help meet the family budget, and to abide by traditional Pakistani cultural norms even as he is tormented for being Pakistani.
Javed is a prolific poet. All of the things he cannot say aloud pour out of his pen. When he enrolls in a writing class, his teacher encourages him to find his own voice. He struggles with this until a friend introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen. Somehow the New Jersey musician’s working-class lyrics, full of frustration and desire, help Javed express himself more fully.
This rather cheesy movie—peopled with broadly drawn characters and musical interludes that can feel awkward—is still a joyful, entertaining experience. It is based on the memoir, Greetings From Bury Park, by journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, who also co-wrote the script. The charm lies in its exuberance and in its acknowledgment of the universal need to be seen and heard, to be recognized for who you are. It also explores the tension between the importance of family and the need of the individual.
Blinded by the Light is a lighthearted lesson in cross-cultural communication. While Javed’s idolization of Springsteen is over the top (and I say that as a Springsteen fan), I was reminded that we have the opportunity to connect with people very different than ourselves by finding commonalities—our need for love, for community, for purpose, and for finding our true identity.
Rated PG-13 for implied sexual activity and language. (Warner Bros)