A 1980s love-letter to the music of Bruce Springsteen, Blinded by the Light highlights the meaning of his work and delivers a story that anyone can relate to. Based on the real-life story of screenwriter Sarfraz Manzoor, the movie follows Javed (Viveik Kalra), a Pakistani teen living in Britain with dreams of being a writer, and how his life and mindset changes after being introduced to the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen.
Through this story, Blinded by the Light offers up one of the most relatable stories in recent memory. The movie, directed by Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham), focuses on ideas and struggles that everyone goes through. Javed’s story is about following your dreams, standing up for what you believe in (even when it is difficult), and being true to who you really are – not who others think you are or should be. Even if you weren’t a Pakistani teenager who grew up in England and had your world revolutionized by the music of The Boss, these themes are universal. As a result, Blinded by the Light is one of the biggest surprises of the year.
While the themes and ideas Blinded by the Light explores do resonate, there are moments when it loses sight of its primary focus – or just doesn’t define what it is. The movie is a joy to watch and filled with a sweet romance and great friendship, but there is a lot at play. At times Blinded by the Light is the story of Javed wanting to become a writer and break free from the confines of his family, but then there’s also the overarching influence of Springsteen that positions the film as being about the power of music. There’s even a section showing the racism that Pakistan people dealt with as a fascist mob protests them being in this neighborhood that results in violence, which is unfortunately still an accurate representation of similar acts of racism happening today. These messages work well on their own, but there may be points in the second act where you may be wondering what the goal of Javed and the movie is.
But, the crux of Blinded by the Light is arguably the music of Springsteen and Javed’s interpretation of it. As someone who only recognizes a couple of Bruce songs, there were plenty of instances when Blinded by the Light flashes into a pseudo-lyrical music video style where I was experiencing and learning about the lyrics of these songs along with Javed. His world is rocked by the insight that Springsteen’s songs have and essentially transforms the singer/songwriter into a god-like being. Every word or phrase of one of his songs is taken as gospel by Javed. For people who feel a similar connection to Bruce’s work, this will be just another reason why Javed will be an easy character to relate to. But, the obsession that he has ultimately is part of the larger arc, as there eventually comes a time when Javed has to rethink how he’s interpreted Bruce’s songs and re-contextualize them.
Speaking of Javed, Kalra takes the weight of the film on his shoulders and shows no problem doing so. This is a breakout performance for him and one that will hopefully result in a lot more work. He’s incredibly charming, super likable, and brings an earnestness to Javed. His writer mentality of his work not being worth the time of anyone to read and the difficulty in hearing criticisms to his work is something that was even more personally relatable for me than it may be for the average viewer. Kalra has great chemistry with Nell Williams, who plays his love interest Eliza, and the two of them are central to some of Blinded by the Light‘s best sings – such as Javed wooing her by singing one of Bruce’s songs in the middle of a marketplace. Aaron Phagura is fantastic as Javed’s friend Roops, and its always lovely to see Hayley Atwell on screen.
There is also plenty of attention paid to Javed’s relationship with his family. The dynamics that they have and current state of their financial security creates plenty of tension, especially between Javed and his father (played by Kulvinder Ghir). More often than not, this is where the film’s conflict comes from, as Javed has to figure out if he’ll obey his father or rebel against him. In any case though, the conflict goes away fairly whenever Javed changes his mind, which happens frequently without much exploration of his reasoning. There is also a nice relationship between Javed and his younger sister (played by Nikita Mehta). Blinded by the Light doesn’t go too deep into her as a character, but her own interest in being allowed to be herself and how she lets herself be free works well with Javed’s own arc.
In the end, Blinded by the Light is an excellent film that surpassed my expectations. Fans of Bruce Springsteen will likely connect with the film even more, but obviously there’s a lot more to this movie than just remembering how good his music is. This is a coming-of-age story wrapped in the familiarity of Springsteen that is an excellent piece of storytelling and heartfelt entertainment.
4.5 ticket stubs out of 5
Blinded by the Light is rated PG-13 for thematic material and language including some ethnic slurs
Did you see Blinded by the Light? If so, let us know what you thought in the comments! But remember, we’re all friends here, so keep the conversation civil.