I’m a huge Bruce fan. Have been ever since I unlocked the truth of “Born in the USA” as the anthem enjoyed its heavy AOR rotation on Philly FM. Much like Gen-X outcast Javed, the Boss spoke to me. Still does. I purchased his autobiography on Audible for the sole purpose of hearing Bruce speak directly through my ear buds. Everyone has a hungry heart. Everyone dreams of taking a wrong turn and to just keep going. Javed’s heart, hungrier than mine perhaps, took Springsteen’s words as gospel. Blinded By The Light is his pulpit.
The premise for the film is simple, heart-warming, and fun. Javed is a Pakistani immigrant living in a nowheresville English suburb during Maggie Thatcher’s reign. Unemployment’s at an all-time high. Anti-foreigner movements rage from waves of white. Javed wants to change his clothes, his hair, his face when the magic of Bruce Springsteen touches this young lad transforming his black-and-white Kansas to a Technicolor Oz. The songs are more than inspiring; they are an escape. And that’s what director Gurinder Chadha presents: celluloid dreams that present the world as a better place. She did similarly with Bend it Like Beckham, another wish-fulfillment piece featuring a fish-outta-water tale.
Blinded By The Light regrettably falls off course becoming lop-sided at best, with the music of the Boss saving the show.
Adapted from the book Greetings from Bury Park by Sarfraz Manzoor, Chadha beautifully builds Javed’s hometown world. The darkness at the edge of town that all teens feel, especially during the Gen-X eighties, especially for immigrant teens who are inherently set apart from their English mates. Javed is a writer and yearns for his creativity to hop onto the ever-present M1 to take root in London. But fates, and an old-world parent, are unmoving Jersey barrier. Baby, tramps like him ain’t born to run. That is until the charm of the Garden State makes its way into Javed’s Walkman. Javed takes Bruce’s words to heart and they give him spine.
Why then does the rest of the film slam the screen door on its rightful magic? Once Javed starts dancing in the dark, the film’s call-to-arms dies away and becomes Sunday matinee fluff. He gets the girl. He becomes Hayley Atwell’s star pupil. He rocks the street ala Ferris Bueller. Max Weinberg’s rhythm is beat. The Big Man’s sax solo is played. There will be no encore. But this film rightfully deserves one. Instead, much like Javed, the film stumbles with finding an identity rolling between a political statement, a musical, or a coming of age story, resting on none.
Viveik Kalra plays the title role with spot-on sincerity and wide-eyed stardom. He is believable, and likable, and kindles the passion that burns within all Springsteen fans regardless of age, gender, and nationality. The film is successful in showing that Bruce’s music adheres to no borders yet gets all Disney friendly with relationship resolution.
Blinded By The Light preaches the Gospel According to Bruce in a typical Hollywood fashion. The believers may nod with righteous hallelujahs while praying the uninitiated turn from their heathen ways. The Holy Land might be in Freehold but truly exists in speakers and ear buds belonging to us all.