“Blinded by the Light” (PG-13) comes to theaters with a lot of buzz. It received a standing ovation at The Sundance Film Festival and was picked up for a cool $15 million. The movie tells a story we’ve all heard before. A strict immigrant father and his obedient wife, give everything to help their children have a better life. But the kids don’t want to live the lives their parents envision for them. There is conflict, rebellion, forgiveness, new love, a supportive teacher, a competition, bullies, a kindly neighbor etc. We’ve seen it before. We’ve just never seen it set to the music of Bruce Springsteen.
The movie is actually based on the 2008 memoir, “Greetings from Bury Park,” by Sarfraz Manzoor, who co-wrote the screenplay. Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra), is a Pakistani teenager living with his very traditional family in Luton, England in 1987. Javed’s father works in a factory and his mom takes in sewing. He has been keeping a diary and writing poems since he was a child. He also writes lyrics for his best friend Matt, who sings with a band and has less time to spend with Javed since he got a girlfriend.
Javed is a good student but he wants to study writing and his father insists he study economics. In addition to dealing with his father, he also has to deal with constant prejudice and some racial violence, and the high unemployment of the time that has everyone on edge.
Javed is pretty miserable until one day in a “meet cute,” a fellow student (Aaron Phagura) lets him borrow his Bruce Springsteen cassettes. He’s instantly fixated on “The Boss” and his music. In one of the most effective scenes in the movie, Springsteen’s lyrics of longing to break free, feeling trapped and downtrodden, appear on screen as Javed listens for the first time. We understand how universal they are and why they could affect a teenager that way.
Soon it’s all Springsteen all the time as Javed covers his walls with posters of the Boss and takes every chance he can to spread the Springsteen gospel.
Encouraged by the above-mentioned supportive teacher (Hayley Atwell), Javed gets published in the school paper, then the local paper, then he wins a big writing contest and gets to read his essay to his graduating class. He also finds a girlfriend of course.
Director Gurinder Chadha, who is best known for another British coming-of-age story, 2002’s “Bend It Like Beckham,” wrote the script with Manzoor and Paul Mayeda Berges. But “Blinded” doesn’t have “Bend It’s” energy. Several scenes run on too long and the film which clocks in just under two hours, easily could have been cut by about 20 minutes.
Kalra is pleasant and fine as Javed, but he doesn’t have much chemistry with his costars. Meera Ganatra and Kulvinder Ghir are terrific as the parents, I really liked Phagura as Javed’s Boss-loving friend, but he and Nell Williams as Javed’s girlfriend Eliza, don’t have much to do. Javed’s older sister is so ignored, my companion thought there was only one sister.
The reason to see “Blinded By the Light” is the music, especially of course if you’re a fan like I am. There are also a few terrific non-Bruce 80s tunes. Fun fact: Springsteen let the filmmakers use his songs for free and also had script approval. While the music is terrific, some of the musical sequences are not. There’s a lot of lyric reciting, characters singing and an awkward musical number at a flea market just doesn’t work.
It’s a good thing Springsteen didn’t charge for his songs, because the filmmaker needed that money for their hairstyle budget. There is some serious mousse action going on here. There are also a couple of unfortunate wigs and plenty of headbands.
I enjoyed “Blinded by the Light,” but not as much as I wanted to. Sure it’s heartwarming and it shows us what it’s like to live with everyday prejudice. But the ending is a bit too cozy and the movie is just a bit too safe. And even though there were no explosions or Marvel characters, the movie theater needed to play “Blinded by the Light” louder. You can’t dial down Bruce.
Blinded by the Light: 3 out of 5 Stars