The first time I ever listened to the Beatles, it created a seismic quake in my young world. A fault line formed that continues to shape the landscape of my life to this day. Their music became my soundtrack, and I could listen to it over and over and find new meaning every time. As a child, I didn’t quite understand what I felt when I listened to “Eleanor Rigby” and “In My Life,” but now I do: It was love, plain and simple.
Now that my superfandom has been documented, I hope the kinship I felt with the protagonist of Blinded by the Light will make a little more sense. I may just be a casual student of The Boss, but complete adoration of a musician? I totally get that. This is a fun, breezy movie with some serious undertones, all which are greatly enhanced by the propulsive fury of Bruce Springsteen’s music.
Based on true events, Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra) is a teen boy with a humdrum life in the British ‘burbs. His Pakistani family tries to shepherd him toward a carefully-constructed adulthood of money and social status. One day, a Sikh classmate hands off cassettes of Born in the USA and Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Javed’s mind gets properly blown. Almost instantly, his clothes, hair, and attitude undergo dramatic alterations. Javed begins to butt heads with his grumpy, conservative father (Kulvinder Ghir) about his desire to be a writer. Springsteen’s music also emboldens Javed to stand up to local bigots and pursue a politically outspoken classmate (Nell Williams).
Much of your appreciation of this movie will depend on your affection for The Boss’s repertoire. Springsteen loves to sing about loners on the lonely road, along with the general disintegration of Norman Rockwell’s Americana. That might seem like an odd wagon for a British-Pakistani teenager to hitch onto, but the film plasters song lyrics all over to make the connection clear: When Springsteen wails and growls about alienation, frustration, and general malaise, he impacts Javed all the way down to his emotional marrow. The movie features a dozen of the singer’s biggest hits, including “Dancing in the Dark,” “Badlands,” and “The River.” This is the proper move because it highlights what’s made Springsteen so big for so long: Even when he hits the heaviest themes, every power chord seems built to soar up to the arena rafters.
Blinded also rides the energy of an incandescent cast. Kalra conveys both gentle innocence and bottled anger in one complex performance. Hayley Atwell scores as an ever-patient teacher who seeks to place Javed’s growing voice in front of an audience. It takes a while, but Ghir eventually elevates his character above the usual clichéd nuisance. Every actor gets on the proper wavelength of Blinded‘s bright light, which almost gives it enough solar power for the entire two-hour journey.
Almost. If this Springsteen oeuvre has a weakness, it’s overlength. Somewhere in the final act, the movie’s point gets made, and everything beyond feels like filler. Subtract a few more minutes and the ending would’ve had a lot more bounce. Still, don’t let that turn you away from Blinded by the Light. When the Boss sings, the movie swings. And anybody who’s ever been devoted to a musical cause can’t walk out of the theater without feeling something. I may not share this guy’s love for Bruce Springsteen, but I damn well understand it.
118 minutes. PG-13.