Blinded by the Light Review: An inspirational and ambitious ode to “The Boss”
Being from New Jersey, there’s no musician that’s more heavily identified with the state than “The Boss” himself – Bruce Springsteen. Through his charismatic voice and lyrics that have always resonated with the working class, he’s inspired everyone that’s born to run and captured the heart of many people around the world. This sense of inspiration is the embodiment of Blinded by the Light – a film inspired by both the words and music of Springsteen and the true story captured in Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir Greetings from Bury Park.
The film follows a young Pakistani boy, Javed (Viveik Kalra), as he grows up in Luton during Margaret Thatcher’s time as the British Prime Minister. Constantly facing discrimination from the fascist, neo-Nazi groups that surround him and being reprimanded by his father (Kulvinder Ghir) for not applying himself to have more “practical” ambitions for his future, Javed feels lost in a world that doesn’t allow him to be himself. However, when another South Asian classmate, Roops (Aaron Phagura), introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen, Javed finds a new lease on life and an escape route from everything that makes him feel trapped. Now, with his heart filled with a new sense of passion, Javed must take what he learns from Bruce’s music and find appreciation for those around him and take control of his passions.
Writer/director Gurinder Chadha does a great job building Javed’s and greatly explores the cultural and personal limitations that he feels on a day to day basis. Rather than making these moments feel extravagant, Chadha keeps things on a realistic level, and it makes these tough moments hit viewers harder. Things like Javed seeing graffiti reading “Pakis Out” and then being spat on and followed by a neo-Nazi, being told to move out his seat because of his skin color, and even his family friends getting derogatory graffiti on their house and even having children come and pee in their house really create this depressing world that Javed lives in. There’s even a moment later in the film that’s really heartbreaking and shows how tough things are for Javed, his family, and his people because of the looming hate that directed at him. Things aren’t exactly better at home either as his father has complete control over Javed’s life and doesn’t allow him to chase his ambitions or have a social life. The only person that Javed has a personal connection within his family is his younger sister, Shazia (Nikita Mehta), and their relationship really shows how their father’s control has made a drastic impact on their lives. It’s a great build-up of writing and directing with great performances that builds a depressing world and why Springsteen ends up meaning so much to Javed.
Once Javed first hears “Dancing in the Dark,” the film legitimately becomes pure inspiration that can be felt with each scene and song that plays. Kalra is absolutely electrifying throughout the film and he just bursts with passion and joy with each scene. What’s great about the use of Springsteen’s iconic songs is how the film uses them as sources for inspiration for its characters. Rather than just have the original songs play or just have Javed sing the songs, the two are combined to create moments full of energy and excitement. From Javed and Matt’s dad (Rob Brydon) singing to Eliza (Nell Williams) to Javed, Eliza, and Roops running through the streets of Lutton singing “Born to Run,” there’s deep amount of respect and admiration for “The Boss”. Even moments where Javed is just sitting there listening to Springsteen with lyrics flying by his head really bring his songs to life and the focus on the importance of the lyrics work perfectly with Javed’s aspirations to be a writer. I will say that him reciting some of Springsteen’s lyrics in everyday conversation and even dressing the part at times came off a little bit cheesy, but overall Javed’s love for Springsteen and his messages is hard not to love back.
All of this comes together with a realization for Javed that’s done perfectly as he comes to understand what Springsteen’s music actually means and what’s important for him in life. It’s a great arc that turns Javed just listening and jumping around to great music into a powerful realization that expresses what Springsteen’s music has meant for fans. Springsteen’s music has always laid out a positive mindset on the world and inspired those that listen to follow their ambitions and not feel alone or that no one understands them – and that’s exactly what happens here. Honestly, the final moments of the film definitely hold a lot of emotional weight that just pours out of all of its characters. It’s finale that makes you want to stand up and cheer and that’s hard to hold back the waterworks on. It not only gives Javed and his father’s relationship a fitting, feel-good end, but delves into the power of Springsteen’s music.
Blinded by the Light is genuinely inspirational at every turn and I can’t think of a more fitting film to represent “The Boss”. Springsteen’s music has always been ambitious, unflinching, and full of heart – something that can be easily found with Blinded by the Light. It’s definite must-see, especially if you’re from Jersey, and will have you oddly shouting “BRUUUUCE” every time his music kicks on.