The old adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same” has never been truer than now in the age of Trump. The rise of fascism, nationalism and racial violence in the states and across Europe feels like a terrifying kind of deja vu.
Theresa May may have been more tin than Iron Lady, but she didn’t do much to help the unstable situation in Britain, earning her a deserved comparison to Margaret Thatcher. As for the U.S., Trump is doing as much damage, if not more, than old mother Reagan did during his reign in the 1980s.
That’s what makes Gurinder Chadha’s “Blinded By The Light” (Warner Brothers) so timely. Sure, it’s cloaked in the political tunes of Bruce Springsteen, and the way The Boss’ lyrics speak to a young fan, but underneath it all, it’s simply another rendition of Stephen Frears’ (and Hanif Kureishi’s) 1985 queer masterpiece “My Beautiful Launderette”.
Inspired by a true story, “Blinded By the Light” is set in Luton, England in the early 1980s. Javed (Viveik Kalra) has been keeping a journal for much of his young life, which is a way of indicating that he expresses himself best in words. Such creativity is discouraged at home by his traditional Pakistani immigrant parents, auto factory worker father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) and home seamstress mother Noor (Meera Ganatra). Nevertheless, he gets plenty of encouragement from teacher Miss Clay (Hayley Atwell) and best friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), whose new wave band Javed writes song lyrics for.
Javed’s life is about to be turned upside down by a series of events. Springsteen-obsessed classmate Roops (Aaron Phagura) introduces Javed to the bliss of Bruce. Javed also finds a like-minded love interest in Eliza (Nell Williams), who is also rebelling against her politically conservative parents. Miss Clay sees so much potential in Javed that she submits his writing to a contest (which he wins) and arranges a job for him with the local newspaper. Meanwhile, the rise of the National Front and the violence and hatred they inflicted on the region’s immigrants, bubbles under the surface like lava, leading to an eventual, brutal eruption.
At times, “Blinded By The Light” comes across like a low-budget “Rocketman”, with Hollywood movie musical-style sequences complete with dance numbers. Alternately sweet and distracting, they give the impression that Chadha was attempting to soften the blow of some of the more explicitly violent scenes. Even the most indifferent Springsteen fans can’t help but be caught up in the fervor as we watch Javed connect with the music and message of the King of Asbury Park. Still, it’s not quite enough to make the movie’s awkwardness easier to take.