- Blinded by the Light
- Directed by: Gurinder Chadha
- Written by: Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges and Sarfraz Manzoor
- Starring: Viveik Kalra, Rob Brydon and Hayley Atwell
- Classification: PG; 117 minutes
The movies have been kind to Bruce Springsteen. Remove the man’s music from certain films – Jerry Maguire, say, or Philadelphia – and those productions seem instantly lesser than, or indelibly incomplete. But what happens when your movie not only floats on Springsteen, but whose entire conception explicitly depends on the work of The Boss? Director Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded by the Light offers an answer, though it’s not an easy one.
Part Billy Elliot and part Chadha’s own underdog hit Bend It Like Beckham, Blinded by the Light is a feel-good coming-of-age movie that often feels way too good about itself. Based on the memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion, Rock 'n' Roll by British-Pakistani writer Sarfraz Manzoor, the film follows the difficult teenage years of a young Springsteen-obsessive named Javed (Viveik Kalra) as he struggles to escape the suffocating pressure of his authoritarian father (Kulvinder Ghir) and the dreary career prospects of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain in 1987 Luton.
As Javed seeks solace from his real world – which offers few creative pleasures and lots of pervasive, ugly racism – he falls deeper into a fantastical Springsteen rabbit hole, with the artist’s songs constantly blaring on the soundtrack and his lyrics even occasionally splashing across the screen, like a liner note come to cinematic life. This highly stylized approach works intermittently, yet Chadha cannot decide how passionately she should lean toward musical fantasy versus kitchen-sink drama.
There are two glorious early scenes where the director seems to have made up her mind: the first when Javed has a Springsteen epiphany during a rainstorm, and the second where he leads a group of underemployed Britons (including a lively cameo from Rob Brydon) in an impromptu singalong in downtown Luton. It’s here where Blinded by the Light feels like an energetic, joyous – and just-cheesy-enough – sizzle reel for a forthcoming Broadway musical (I’d invest). But the tone isn’t consistent, and the line between musical and drama that happens to use music blurs messily. In a backward way, it made me wistfully reminiscent for Dexter Fletcher’s Elton John biopic Rocketman, which wholeheartedly embraced the musical urges that Chadha is constantly resisting.
Blinded by the Light can’t be dismissed entirely, though. The young Kalra offers enough manic enthusiasm to mask the film’s tonal missteps, while any film that features the Boss’s greatest work (his 1973 album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. is heard almost in its entirety) has to be worth something. And if Chadra’s film merely scratches, rather than satisfies, any Springsteen itch you might be having, consider it a lighthearted warm-up for the Boss’s big movie year of 2019. In less than one month’s time, the Toronto International Film Festival will host the world premiere of Western Stars, Springsteen’s directorial debut. Come on up for the rising, y’all.
Blinded by the Light opens Aug. 16
Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.