The latest movie to mine the legacy of classic rock comes as a tribute to Bruce Springsteen. Based on a memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor, “Blinded by the Light,” joins “Rocketman,” “Yesterday” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” in dramatizing the power of music to change lives.
Viveik Kalra plays the British Pakistani Javed a.k.a. Jay, a 16-year-old aspiring writer with dreams of getting away from Luton, a town he describes as “a four letter word,” where he is an outsider, tormented by skinheads, and his strict father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir). “You can choose to be a doctor or a lawyer or an estate agent,” his father says, “so don’t say I don’t give you any freedom.”
Things improve when he heads out to a local sixth form college. There he meets a teacher (Hayley Atwell) who tells him, “Stop doubting, keep writing,” the politically aware anarchist Eliza (Nell Williams) and best friend Roops (Aaron Phagura). When Roops hands over cassettes of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and Born in the USA” with the words, “Bruce is the direct line to all that is true in this s****y world,” it’s as if Jay has been struck by lightning. “It’s like Bruce knows everything I’ve ever felt, everything I’ve ever wanted,” he says.
As his obsession grows he begins dressing like his hero, speaking in Bruce quotes and papering his walls with Springsteen posters. His family thinks he’s gone bonkers. “Do you think this man sings for people like us,” asks his father, but the connection between Springsteen’s lyrics of working-class life and Jay’s existence are too powerful to ignore.
Directed by “Bend It Like Beckham’s” Gurinder Chadha “Blinded by the Light” is a coming of age story fueled by the invigorating power of music to change lives. Springsteen’s songs are specific in their American roots but universal in meaning. When Jay, sitting on the other side of the Atlantic, frustrated and unhappy, hears Bruce sing, “Man I’m just tired and bored with myself,” it hits home. It’s the epiphany moment when he realizes others feel the way he does. Call it “The Tao of Bruce” if you like, but the lyrics, set against the bleak backdrop of Thatcher’s England and the rise of the racist National Front, take on a meaning that resonates with Jay. It borders on corny and is earnest in the extreme but the earnestness is the movie’s strength, celebrating the virtues of the best of human values. “Bruce sings about not letting the hardness of the world stop you from letting the best of you slip away,” says Jays, with an acolyte’s devotion.
“Blinded by the Light” is a crowd-pleasing confection, sentimental and predictable, but bound together with the giddy feeling of first hearing music that speaks to you.