You don’t have to be a Bruce Springsteen fan to enjoy Blinded By The Light, though it certainly helps. Guided by the Boss’ music, this is a story about a dreamer, a Pakistani teenager in a small town desperately seeking a way out. He likes music, and he likes to write. His friend gives him an audio cassette (it’s set in the 1980s) of a Springsteen album. His life is forever changed.
Lest you think this was made by a Springsteen-obsessed New Jersey fanboy, it was not. Far from it, actually.
This is based on a true story, and was directed by Gurinder Chadha, who is best known for Bend It Like Beckham (2002). Chadha grew up in England, is of Indian descent, and saw her family members face racial oppression because of their skin color. She also, one presumes, eventually found comfort and catharsis in the arts.
The family at the center of Blinded By The Light lives in Luton, England, is of Pakistani descent, and faces racial oppression from white supremacists. (Darkly and eerily familiar to too many real-life stories of today.) The dreamer who loves Springsteen is Javed (Viveik Kalra), a shy 16-year-old who writes songs for his best friend and neighbor, Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman). The problem is Javed has no life experience, so he doesn’t have much to write about. His father (Kulvinder Ghir) is strict, his mother (Meera Ganatra) is submissive, and he’s barely able to talk to girls, let alone go to a party.
One day at school Javed’s friend Roops (Aaron Phagura), a fellow Muslim, gives him a Springsteen tape. Like other kids he at first considers Springsteen “what your dad listens to,” but eventually he plays the tape on his Walkman. Suddenly, a connection: Springsteen seems to know everything Javed has ever felt and wanted (join the club, kid), and Javed becomes obsessed. He starts dressing in cut off plaid shirts and blue jeans. Springsteen posters take up space on the walls of his room. He memorizes every lyric, and they come to embody his struggle, his desire to get out, his life in general. The Boss speaks to Javed in a way he never thought possible.
This is what great art does, right? It connects emotionally, and mentally. Javed is so moved by Springsteen songs that it gives him confidence when talking to a girl (Nell Williams) in his class, and via the prodding of his teacher (Hayley Atwell), his writing becomes more prolific. The music also gives him the strength to endure and stand up to his loving but oppressive father, and deal with the white supremacists who treat him and his family like dirt.
The songs, predictably, are Springsteen’s greatest hits, but they’re smartly used by Chadha to reflect the action. “Dancing in the Dark” sums up how stuck Javed feels, as does “The Promised Land.” “Badlands” empowers Javed to stand up to bullies, and “I Prove It All Night” accompanies his first kiss. “Born in the USA” is mentioned but not heard, probably because it doesn’t fit this story, while “Born to Run” receives a delightful montage that plays like a better music video than the real “Born to Run” video (which is just Springsteen in concert).
From a filmmaking perspective, Chadha does not start on a good note. A title on-screen says “1980,” then a young Javed says it’s “September, 1980.” The redundancy suggests a lack of efficiency in the storytelling, and prompts a “yeah we already knew that” in the mind of viewers. It has a predictably sappy ending, and some predictable moments throughout – to be expected with a heart-tugging theme like this.
And yet, darn if this isn’t a winner, a feel-good, inspiring movie that unites the artistry of music and film in a harmonious way that can be enjoyed by all.
This movie, down to the soundtrack, is a good old-fashioned crowd-pleaser.
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT ( 3 ) Directed by Gurinder Chadha • Starring Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra • Rated PG-13 • 117 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinema, Lighthouse Cinemas.