In the midst of Thatcher’s jobless 1980s Britain, a teeanged Pakistani boy struggles to find his place and voice in Blinded by the Light from director Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham), a heavy-handed love letter to Bruce Springsteen based on a true story.
It’s 1987, and Javed (Viveik Kalra) hates his small industrial town of Luton, England, a tale he tells through secret poetry and not-so-secret lyrics written for his dick-ish neighbor and only friend, Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), whose hair tells us he’s apparently in some kind of Flock of Seagulls-esque band. When the synth pop of the day doesn’t cut it for Javed, however, a new chum turns him on to The Boss, and every dang thing he’s been feeling comes pouring out in all of its rock glory, seemingly just for him.
Javed spends the rest of the movie dressing, talking and acting like Springsteen, even going so far as to recite lyrics at people alongside egregious, endless eye contact—an act everyone everywhere hates, by the way—and using the jams to gain confidence and get dates and stuff. Meanwhile, an only sort of there English teacher (Hayley Atwell, aka Peggy Carter from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) inspires young Javed to keep writing by ignoring most other students and forcefully submitting him for writing contests; his father’s
old-school approach to literally everything (from a charming Kulvinder Ghir) stifles his sense of creativity, freedom and maturity. In other words, shit’s rough, and only Bruce knows how Javed feels.
Blinded by the Light might have been cute enough if it weren’t for wooden performances from Kalra and … well, everyone who isn’t the dad, really. Chadha’s take on the era feels eerily real, but themes like racism, personal evolution and family politics consistently take a backseat to confusing not quite musical numbers accompanied by odd floating subtitles of Springsteen lyrics. These scenes usually find Javed doing something emotionally over-the-top, like throwing himself against a wall in the rain and making big, sad eyes, and while he keeps saying he feels all these deep things, mostly he appears to feel awkward. And then, every time we get a closer glimpse at the challenges of a culture living so far away from home, we’re ripped back to a moment wherein Javed hits play on his cassette Walkman for an impossibly precise moment a Springsteen lyric is applicable to what’s happening in his real life. Weird.
Yes, the story’s based on a real one, namely writer Sarfraz Manzoor’s Greetings From Bury Park, wherein the real-life friend of Chadha’s recounts his Springsteen awakening. That’s neat and all, and we do catch a couple real-world photos of the Manzoor with The Boss over the end credits, but it’s hard to not wish Blinded by the Light had taken a more grounded approach rather than its cutesy one, especially since it feels so much longer than it needs to be. Then again, baby, we were born to run. Or something.
+Damn, Bruce has some jams; "real" moments
-Leans too heavily into cute; Kalra is boring
Blinded by the Light
Directed by Chadha
With Kalra, Ghir and Atwell