Blinded by the Light
Directed by Gurinder Chadha
Starring Viveik Kaira, Aaron Phagura, Nell Williams
You should look elsewhere if you’re seeking a dispassionate review of the merits of “Blinded by the Light,” a coming-of-age story about a Pakistani British teen who finds his life forever changed when he discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen.
That’s because Javed (Viveik Kalra) might as well be me, or the millions upon millions others who have seen their lives profoundly changed upon encountering The Boss.
I, too, have passionately espoused the wisdom of “Prove It All Night” to a loved one and felt like running through the streets in a bout of sheer, unrestrained joy thanks to “Born the Run.”
All that is to say, for a Bruce fanatic this movie simply annihilates your tear ducts from start to finish and any pretense of objectivity is totally lost.
And there’s enough that is compelling and relatable in the film directed and co-written by Gurinder Chadha, based on the memoir “Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll” by Sarfraz Manzoor (who also co-writes the screenplay), that even a casual fan or, gasp, a Springsteen hater could be won over.
It’s 1987 in Luton, England, and our hero feels lonely and misunderstood, just “searchin’ for a world with some soul” as Bruce once put it. He’s an aspiring poet who hasn’t found his voice, a disappointment-in-the-making for his stern father and faced with the struggles of daily life amid the significant racial strife eating away at the fabric of the working-class town.
Everything begins to change for the better when classmate Roops (Aaron Phagura) slips him the cassettes of “Born in the USA” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town.”
In Springsteen’s music, Javed finds hope and purpose.
Chadha visualizes the notion by presenting meticulously choreographed sequences where it feels as if Javed is overcome by the music, as the words of “The Promised Land,” among others, are projected onto the screen.
When racists confront Javed and Roops at a restaurant, the lyrics of the defiant, anthemic “Badlands” — “I want to spit in the face of these badlands” — power their resistance.
The picture is sweet and romantic without ever being cloying — Javed finds that fellow classmate Eliza (Nell Williams) is quite open to learning about all things Springsteen, and The Boss helps bring them together, too.
The movie is alive with the feeling of being heard for the first time, and of how great music can make the world seem smaller and less foreboding. It is very much a movie about Springsteen and why he matters but it’s also universal in that sense. No matter who you are, you’ve probably been so affected by a work of popular art that it felt as if the artist was speaking directly to you, offering a road map through the tough times.