"’s loaded with charm and always attentive to heart..."

See The Boss's Light

(083119) In a summer season that’s already celebrated the music of The Beatles through fantasy (in June’s “Yesterday”), it seems only natural to make way for Bruce Springsteen and his working class perspective for “Blinded by the Light,” a tale of fandom in the 1980s and something of a bio-pic for writer Sarfraz Manzoor, whose book, “Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll,” has inspired the screenplay. The film isn’t explicitly a jukebox musical working through Springsteen’s ample discography, but it certainly threatens to become one. Co-writer/director Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”) is making a coming-of-age drama, but guitar spirit often takes command of the feature, which is even more of an audience-pleaser than “Yesterday,” even while working with far more sobering tunes. “Blinded by the Light” doesn’t know when to quit, but it’s loaded with charm and always attentive to heart, offering viewers the ride of life in motion, backed by the rock poetry of The Boss.

The year is 1987, and Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a young Pakistani man who’s been raised in a strict family, dealing with authority issues from his father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), who demands respect. Javed dreams of college, but he’s committed to a life of servitude, reluctantly working on a future as an accountant, living up to Malik’s expectations. When Javed meets a Sikh named Roops (Aaron Phagura), he’s introduced to the miracle of Bruce Springsteen, who writes about the common man and his struggles to make it through a life he doesn’t want. Responding to such truth, Javed becomes a Springsteen superfan, living his life for The Boss, with this passion driving his personal poetry, impressing his teacher, Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell). With Springsteen altering his DNA, Javed fights for his future, finding liberation a difficult sell for Malik, who pushes traditional Pakistani values and aspirations on his son, causing tremendous friction in the house.

While “Blinded by the Light” is a deeply personal story, it also represents a slice of history. It’s set in England during Thatcher’s reign, with the nation succumbing to the ravages of unemployment, creating a depression that’s reignited the National Front, a neo-Nazi organization that’s determined to drive perceived enemies, including Pakistanis, out. Jobs are drying up, hope is dissipating, and Javed is trapped in a domestic situation he no longer has the patience for, facing a life where he has zero control over his personal expression, even being groomed for an arranged marriage. It’s this collision of household disturbance and national alarm that drives the plot of “Blinded by the Light,” finding Javed positively lost, in need of direction.

Such confidence is offered through the music of Bruce Springsteen, with Roops gifting his friend a pair of cassettes for maximum Walkman salvation. The soundtrack is filled with songs from The Boss, with Chadha showing little hesitation when it comes to equating Springsteen’s songwriting with Javed’s awakening, periodically using printed lyrics to underline the connection generated between the artist and the meek soul about to explode. “Blinded by the Light” strives to be jubilant, inching toward corniness perhaps one too many times, but it’s a definite heart-on-sleeve production push, reaching peak euphoria with a mid-movie presentation of “Born to Run,” watching Javed and Roops commandeer a college radio station to play the forbidden track, sprinting out into the world singing the song at the top of their lungs. This joy inspires song and dance, with Chadha capturing the exorcism of complacency in the lead character, and also indulging some musical number itches with Springsteen’s beloved hit.

There’s a lot on the film’s plate, as “Blinded by the Light” deals with Javed’s success as a writer, time with his first girlfriend (Nell Williams), and complications with his neighborhood buddy (Dean-Charles Chapman), who’s a New Wave kid. The endeavor extends to nearly two hours in length, and the stretchmarks show, leaving the feature somewhat plodding as it deals with all supporting characters, including the central crisis of culture and age between Javed and his stern father. Chadha loves this community, and she’s very careful to draw parallels between the crisis of far-right racism in the 1980s and the world we live in today, making it difficult for her to trim down a picture that needs it. While it almost runs out of gas, “Blinded by the Light” is clearly the work of an impassioned and aware helmer who’s trying to do something positive with the material, offering sunshine to moviegoers who may need the boost these days. She gives Springsteen all the adulation, but the saga of Manzoor’s enlightenment is the true inspiration, working to secure the grand arc of sonic and creative stimulation the writer experienced thanks to The Boss.

Directed by:   Gurinder Chadha
Written by:   Screenplay by: Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha, Sarfraz Manzoor. Inspired by the music by Bruce Springsteen.
Starring:   Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra
Released:   081619
Length:   118 minutes
Rating:    PG-13 for thematic material and language including some ethnic slurs.

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT ©  2019 Levantine Films
Review © 2019 Alternate Reality, Inc.