If you’ve ever been a teenager, you’ll be able to relate to “Blinded by the Light.” Universal relatability is a mark of accomplished acting, something this delightful movie displays in spades. Javed, played by newcomer Viveik Kalra, is a Pakistani British teen coming of age in a London suburb in 1987. He’s under the thumb of his overbearing, traditional father, but upon discovering the music of Bruce Springsteen, Javed feels inspired to express himself and hone his skills at writing. Kalra delivers a breakout performance with a level of excellence that’s matched by an effective supporting cast.
Kalra has only two completed credits on IMDb outside of “Blinded by the Light.” He’s slated to appear next opposite Colin Farrell in the upcoming sci-fi thriller “Voyagers,” and based on his winning performance in “Light,” credits will not be in short supply for this budding actor moving forward. The film owes much of its relatability to his work. Even if viewers have zero experience with British or Pakistani culture, they’ll be able to relate to the alienation and yearning that Kalra beautifully portrays. With telling expressions and gestures, Klara capably mirrors his character’s thoughts and emotions, whether it’s the frustration over a controlling parent or the joy at newfound freedom. This connected, transparent presence isn’t easily achieved, especially by a relatively green actor, but he pulls it off thanks to his incredible focus. He’s dialed-in and present in every scene, resulting in a consistently engaging performance.
Ghir has on-camera credits going back to 1985 and has worked with “Light” director Gurinder Chadha before, including in the PBS miniseries “Beecham House,” in which Kalra also starred. But viewers may still be unfamiliar with the actor, and if that’s the case, they’ll get to be impressed by his character work. Ghir plays Malik, Javed’s domineering father who doesn’t understand or support Javed’s dream of becoming a writer. Ghir’s portrayal of Malik shows he’s put in the work to delve into his character’s motives so that viewers can understand him beyond the clichés of a controlling parent. Malik has a well-developed character arc, and Ghir deftly maneuvers a radical turn it takes at the end of the film. The actor’s ability to weave this “emotional 180” into his character, rounding out his sharp edges and exposing a rather generous heart, adds to his overall first-rate work.
Williams has a few more credits under her name than Kalra but is still likely to be a fresh face for most viewers, unless they remember her as young Cersei Lannister from a 2015 episode of “Game of Thrones.” But based on her performance as Javed’s love interest Eliza, the young actress will leave viewers wishing to see her in more projects. Williams brings a depth and kindness to a rebellious character that other actors would’ve rendered into a bundle of clichés. The actress has strong on-screen chemistry with Kalra and effortlessly navigates the highs and lows of young love in a way that will leave viewers reminiscing about class crushes and clandestine make-out sessions. While working within the framework of a supporting role, Williams matches Kalra’s charm and affability and delivers a character we come to care about.
Thanks to her role as Peggy Carter in the “Captain America” series, it’s likely Atwell is the most recognizable name on the cast list. While hers is a relatively small part, Atwell does a lot with the character of Ms. Clay, Javed’s persistently caring teacher who doesn’t balk at the challenges his father presents. Think Hilary Swank in “Freedom Writers,” only more “woke.” Atwell isn’t given a large character arc or much emotional range, but she uses her limited on-screen time to infuse the character with nuance. Ms. Clay is direct with her students and unafraid to air negative feelings toward the prime minister in front of them. When she’s not on the clock, the teacher actively protests racism and encourages Javed’s writing efforts. Atwell knits all these character traits together into a real, dynamic creation.
Thanks to incredible work from its cast, it’s no wonder Variety calls the film “one of the biggest discoveries out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival” as well as “Chadha’s best movie since ‘Bend It Like Beckham.’” Whether you’re a fan of Bruce Springsteen or not, you can connect with this warm coming-of-age comedy-drama about the challenges of discovering your own identity and aspirations, separate from those of your parents. The actors’ heartfelt portrayals of relatable characters will leave viewers of any age inspired.