Realistically, a film like Blinded by the Light (dir. Gurinder Chadha, rated M) should be right up my alley. From the director of football film staple Bend It Like Beckham, this film centres on Javed (Viveik Kalra), an isolated and alienated teen in 1980s working-class Britain, who discovers liberation from economic depression, everyday racism and his strict father in the music of Bruce Springsteen. Here's the thing - I'm an enormous Springsteen fan and, though the story is built around Javed's British immigrant narrative, connecting to the universal themes and ideas of the Boss is an experience shared the world over. This is perhaps why it was such a disappointment when the film turned out to be less Born to Run and more Human Touch (in other words, just okay).
The problem with Blinded by the Light is that it telegraphs its emotions at fever pitch but rarely convinces. We want to be whirled away in the intoxicating energy of discovering Bruce for the first time and all the other teen staples the film indulges in - finding first love, falling in with a new tribe of similarly affected friends, fighting with your parents - and the film tries desperately to force the issue, including having Bruce's lyrics fly around the screen as they're sung. But for all the effort the film makes, it rarely does more than brush the surface of both Javed's life and Springsteen's genius. The film twists and warps its narrative to fit the themes of his biggest songs, from Dancing in the Dark as Javed feels creatively unsatisfied, to Prove It All Night as he kisses his first girl, to Promised Land as he dreams of a better life. Most of the time these feel groan-inducingly contrived rather than emotionally resonant. For all the scenes of Javed joyously running down the street or dancing and singing through the school halls, we rarely feel like joining him, regardless of the music's magic. Despite some undeniably moving sequences toward the end of the film, Blinded by the Light can't quite escape its suffocating sentimentality.
Rating: Two and a half stars.
On the other spectrum of music films releasing this week, Mystify: Michael Hutchence (dir. Richard Lowenstein, rated M) proves to be an illuminating profile of a mysterious and tragically lost soul. As someone who knew next to nothing about the INXS frontman, I can't speak for what the film will feel like to mega-fans of the Australian crooner. However, as a film, Mystify is mostly successful, employing a beguilingly off-beat approach to its depiction of the man's life through pieced together archival footage and an array of interviewed voices - including ex-girlfriend Kylie Minogue and Hutchence himself - compiled mosaic-like over the imagery. I was fascinated by how much of Hutchence's musical career remained in the background - while his songwriting process, touring life and musicianship were undoubtedly present in Mystify, the film is far more concerned with his interior life, his familial and relationship struggles and his way of seeing the world. It's an enlightening, tragic glimpse of an Australian icon gone too soon.
Rating: Four stars.