'Blinded by the Light' vividly brings Bruce Springsteen's music into a new focus REVIEW
Baby, we were Born to Run — to Luton.
Yes, Luton. In the United Kingdom. That’s where the improbable, but maybe not so improbable, story of the impact of Bruce Springsteen’s music on a South Asian Muslim teenager named Javed growing up in '80s England takes place in the new movie musical “Blinded by the Light.”
Javed, played with heart by Viveik Kalra, uses the Boss’ music to get the girl, stand up to his dad, take on the bullies and ultimately as a vessel of self-awareness. It’s based on the memoir of journalist and Springsteen fan Sarfraz Manzoor, titled “Greetings from Bury Park.”
It’s a charmer. A coming of age in the '80s movie that’s kind of like John Hughes meets Springsteen in Thatcher England. But it’s not Hughes, it’s Gurinder Chadha, the director of “Bend It Like Beckham,” behind the camera.
You’ll appreciate her hand as a street market turns into a chorus to sing “Thunder Road” along with Javed, and Javed and his pals take to the field and the highway as “Born to Run” plays in a wonderful and wonderous sequence that recalls “A Hard Day’s Night” and the Hughes films, with a Michael Jackson impersonator thrown in to boot.
Yes, it works. It gloriously works.
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It’s an '80s overload, with the fashions and the music — including Pet Shop Boys, Cutting Crew, Level 42, a-ha and more — of the decade. Waiting for the Springsteen music to show up in “Blinded by the Light” is like waiting for the big gorilla to show up in the original “King Kong.”
But once it’s here, it’s hard to miss.
“Who’s Bruce Springsteen?” asks Javed in the film.
“The Boss of us all,” replies Aaron Phagura’s as Roops, his Boss-informed friend.
Javed and Roops travel to the Promised Land. The Jersey Shore, that is. They visit Freehold and Asbury Park, and watch Springsteen on a video screen at the Stone Pony.
Thus the enlightenment begins. But they return to '80s England amid the rise of the alt-right National Front, and Javed, of Pakistani descent, and Roops, a Sikh, have to navigate a terrain filled with blatant racism, subtle and not so subtle.
Some of it is shocking and horrific, and the most unfortunate part is that the xenophobia depicted in “Blinded” is being felt today, both in U.K. and in the U.S. Chadra has stated that the movie is partly a reaction to the anti-immigrant underpinnings of the Brexit movement in the U.K.
It unfortunately also translates too well to the current mood in the United States. It’s in this depiction that Meera Ganatra, as Javed’s mom, and Kulvinder Ghir, as his dad, impress in their roles as first generation immigrant parents facing, with dignity, a world that is frayed.
“Blinded by the Light” is not an hour and a half of Springsteen escapism. It’s a movie about the universality of the themes he’s sung about, vividly brought to life with a new focus.
Chris Jordan, a Jersey Shore native, covers entertainment and features for the USA Today Network New Jersey. His multiple awards include recognition for stories on both Bruce Springsteen and Snooki. Contact him at @chrisfhjordan; firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with app.com or consider a subscription today.
Blinded by the Light
Director: Gurinder Chadha
When: In theaters Friday, Aug. 16 from New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.