Blinded by the Light

Gurinder Chadha, UK, 2019

It’s odd watching your childhood on the big screen. This film is set in Luton in 1987; I was 9 years old and lived 20 miles away in Bedford. So I am well-placed to judge the historical accuracy, and they got it spot on: the accents, the crisp packets and drinks cans, the fashion, the look of the place (though Bedford is much prettier than Luton ;-)).

But here I was watching it with my American friends (Beth, 48, Zoe, 16, Stella, 13) in a multiplex in Wisconsin. Ain’t life bizarre.

It’s not the kind of film I would have gone to see on my own – one of those feelgood, coming-of-age, against-all-the-odds films in the same vein as Billy Elliot, Bend It Like Beckham, Little Voice… – but it was most enjoyable and joyous.

Based on the teenagehood of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, it accurately portrayed the deeply felt Importance of everything when you are 16, particularly falling in love with a band or song. How song lyrics are deeply meaningful and speak to you. Javed, our hero, is struggling with the clash between his traditional Pakistani background and his identity as a British teenager. These were not easy times, either; the climate of racism and economic difficulties is not a glib backdrop, but an inescapable everyday reality (how this was all shown rang really true, not that I – a middle-class white girl in the ‘burbs – really knew much of this at the time).

So I can see how Bruce Springsteen’s music made sense, both as explanation and escape. The lyrics to the songs swirl around the characters on the screen. I particularly loved the bit when they were actually projected on the buildings as Javed has a tortured soul moment outside during the 1987 hurricane.

There are occasional moments where it’s a bit like a musical, as people break into song on the street, but these reminded me more of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off than Singin’ In The Rain.

It’s super cheesy at the end, when all is forgiven, everyone’s grown and become a better human, and things are going to be OK. But hey, it’s a feelgood film, and maybe if we all wrote a film about our teenage challenges overcome, it would turn out cheesy.

A note on the cinema: it had huge reclining seats!!! Is it the way multiplexes are going these days? Fewer seats but really big, spacious comfortable ones. A ploy to get you off your sofa. A very different cinema experience to the old indie cinemas I normally frequent.

Also, Beth verified that the New Jersey accent of the US border guard was terrible.

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