Blinded by the Light
by George Wolf
Warning: this article contains some serious pro-Boss bias. Like, copious amounts.
Because a Springsteen fanatic like myself reviewing Blinded by the Light is somewhere close to your racist Facebook friend from high school reviewing Fox News. Expecting a thumbs down is like, oh, I don’t know….
Trying to start a fire without a spark?
Cool, we understand each other.
But beyond the singer or the songs, the real joyous triumph of the film is how it unabashedly adores not just this one particular artist, but the entire concept of inspiration.
Based on the memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor, the film rewinds to the late 80s when Javed (Viviek Kalra in an irresistible feature debut), a British teen of Pakistani descent, is trying to navigate high school amid the austere gloom of Thatcher conservatism and the ominous rise of far-right bigotry.
Drowning in a sea of synth pop, Javed’s life changes when his friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) gives him some Springsteen cassettes.
As both a veteran of that awakening and a witness for others, I can tell you director/co-writer Gurinder Chadha nails it with a perfectly rockin’ bullseye. Bruce’s lyrics dance across the screen and around Javed’s head, his fist pumping and his face beaming with a newfound sense of purpose.
Though his father (a terrific Kulvinder Ghir) bemoans the influence of “that Jewish singer” (“He’s not Jewish – and that’s racist!”), Javed, bolstered by encouragement from a sincere teacher (Hayley Atwell) and a new girlfriend (Nell Williams), takes the first steps toward a future of his own – as a writer.
Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham) manages a wonderful tonal balance, juggling humor (watch for that hilarious Rob Brydon cameo), coming of age pathos, blaring 80s hits, a mighty timely social conscience and even extended dance sequences.
Cynicism doesn’t stand a chance. Chadha keeps the heart on Manzoor’s sleeve beating loud, proud and unmistakable, knowing this borders on cornball and not giving a toss.
For Springsteen (who has been notoriously shy about licensing his songs) to give this project his complete blessing lends an immense layer of gravitas for longtime fans. Until that next Bruce concert, we are a choir eager for the preaching.
But replace Bruce with Aretha, Kurt Cobain, Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift and the exuberant joy of Blinded by the Light still works.
Inspiration, wherever you find it, is worth celebrating. Embrace it, and it might even lead to your….glory days.
One, two, three, four!