Blinded by the Light
Blinded by the Light is a tribute to the power of the Boss. The film dramatically illustrates how Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics and power of storytelling can cross oceans and speak to those far removed from the original context where these tunes were created.
For millions of fans, the songs of Bruce Springsteen are the stuff of broken heroes and runaway dreams, siren calls from the Jersey Shore, where the desire to get away and reach for something better is hampered by the pull of hometown responsibilities. Such was the draw for Sarfraz Manzoor. Growing up in a synthpop-dominated late 1980s, the writer saw this American artist speaking to his own struggles in Thatcherite Britain, where the Pakistani-British boy found his own voice in his dreary suburban town.
Director Gurinder Chadha is best known for Bend It Like Beckham. Like that film, Blinded is an unabashed crowd-pleaser that still evokes some substance in terms of the cultural conversation about what it means to be accepted and defined as British. Chadha’s script, co-written with her regular collaborator Paul Mayeda Berges and Manzoor himself, takes the broad strokes of the coming-of-age genre and crafts a jukebox musical fantasy using Springsteen’s songs as the core.
Allusions to the Commitments are also rife, where another despondent group saw in the sublime authenticity of soul music a cross-cultural connection. Here, young Javed (played with enthusiasm by Viveik Kalra) is a nascent writer constricted by his family’s traditional ways. When he’s slipped a Springsteen cassette by a classmate (Aaron Phagura), his life and confidence are forever changed.
The conventional tropes of the genre are well established. Take the cynical yet encouraging teacher, Miss Clay (Hayley Atwell), who sees in young Javed the spark of talent. It’s well-tread stuff, as is the family drama centered around a conflict between integrating into a new culture while respecting the past. These are hardly new ideas. Fortunately, Chadha manages to present them in a way that never feels mawkish.
This, of course, echoes Springsteen’s own output. He’s the troubadour of the working class, self-admitted to being just a guy able to tell stories of factory workers and running away while living the comfortable life of a multi-millionaire mere miles from where he grew up. Like the film, Springsteen’s songs shouldn’t work, but their earnestness is earned, their stories provocative yet inviting, and their empathy always evident.
In many ways, Blinded by the Light is as much a full-on musical as, say, Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe. Both movies have a similar sense of unabashed joy, without the need to re-record the original source material. This film is littered with Springsteen’s songs. The live tracks and alternative mixes will be a wonderful surprise for even longtime fans of the Boss. Those who are damaged enough to not enjoy Springsteen will hopefully at least find what makes the joy of his music work, seeing how the lyrical and musical elements combine to present a sense of hope, yearning and ambition. Those new to his music may well fall for the power of the Boss.
It would be easy to dismiss Blinded by the Light as a mere trifle, one among many similarly themed coming-of-age dramas. However, sometimes the classics work, the clichés gel, and the parts combine to something greater than the whole. In some ways, Chadha manages the miraculous, bringing these disparate elements to a film that’s supremely triumphant without losing sight of the greater narrative pull. Perhaps it’s bigger than it should be, and the reconciliations are easier than they should be, but like any exceptional pop song, a deeper truth lies under the common chords, a depth that speaks on fundamental levels.
With an immensely charismatic, potentially star-making turn by Viveik Kalra, a symphony of Springsteen tunes, and an audience friendly while surprisingly deep story, Blinded by the Light is an absolute bit of magic. It’s a rare film whose joy is infectious and storyline inspiring, an instant classic that will leave audiences dancing in the dark.