Countless articles are already being written which examine, while not reaching any definite conclusion, why Blinded by the Light failed to generate interest at the box office this past weekend. Its meager $4.3 million gross is certainly disappointing, particularly since it was a weekend full of holdovers and one that was topped by a film that only earned $21 million. This should have been a decent enough weekend for a couple non-franchise films to break out.
At any rate, I am not here to hypothesize about the tastes and habits of most of the movie going public. My purpose is to evaluate the product, and in that sense nothing about Blinded by the Light is a failure. It’s a fascinating story, and we can all relate to feeling like becoming a fan, whether of a film director, a band or an athletic team, was a life altering moment. The great thing about being a fan is that we can share a passion for something with millions of other people while celebrating the specific ways in which the person or persons we are fans of have affected us. Blinded by the Light is mostly successful at tapping into that while being more than just a clever commercial for an already popular entity. There’s a touching story here, and though the film includes a wide assortment of Springsteen hits in its soundtrack, and even a couple musical numbers, it wouldn’t mean much if the story wasn’t such a winner.
This true story follows Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra), who lives in Luton, England with his Pakistani immigrant parents Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) and Noor (Meera Ganatra). Javed is passionate about contemporary rock music and writing poetry, both of which are met with disapproval from Malik. Javed has a hard time fitting in at school, where he is one of only two South Asian students. His family encounters constant racism in the community too.
If anyone still clings to the delusion that the Reagan and Thatcher era of politics was more tolerant and less turbulent, this film quickly puts that notion to rest. The Thatcher economy also led to rising unemployment. Racism and economic struggle are the focus of Javed’s writings, which are mostly deemed too depressing by the few people he shows them to. Then, through a simple gesture, Javed is introduced to the music of Bruce Springsteen, which not only helps him cope with the unpleasant realities of his life, but to dream of something better.
If this sounds like it could become corny, it occasionally does. There are far too many instances where characters quote Springsteen songs in one on one conversations, and a few musical numbers that don’t quite work. Director Gurinder Chadha could also trust the audience a little more and not use the heavy-handed technique of having text of the lyrics that stand out to Javed appear on screen. It was these cheesier moments that dominated footage in the trailers, so I was pleasantly surprised that the film is full of weightier and genuinely moving moments.
Around the film’s midpoint, the music starts be be utilized in more intriguing ways. I also liked that, as much of a Springsteen fan Javed is, his relationship with Eliza (Nell Williams) develops instead out of their shared interest in creative writing and an awareness that politics in England need to change a lot. The script never neglects Javed or Eliza’s other dimensions.
Films about musicians or inspired by their music seem to be in demand these days, so I will just have to remain puzzled as to why this didn’t fare better at the box office. I left the theater grateful that Warner Bros. took a risk on this one. I have a feeling the money spent will eventually be paid back in dollars and in appreciation, not just from critics but from audiences. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Springsteen records to listen to.