Review: Blinded by the Light – Bend it Like Bruce
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am not a fan of Bruce Springsteen’s music or director Gurinder Chadha’s previous movies. Yep, I’m the kid who dove for the radio dial to change it whenever I heard the opening notes of Born in the U.S.A., and I am the one who shrugged a “meh” at the charming 2002 heart-stealer Bend It Like Beckham.
But guess what? I actually enjoyed Blinded by the Light. Maybe it’s because we as citizens of this messed-up world desperately need hopeful, positive, feel-good films and music more than ever – but there’s more to it than that. Blinded by the Light is a solid movie, plain and simple.
Set in 1987, the (true) story follows a likable teenage boy named Javed (Viveik Kalra) whose dreams outshine his circumstances. He lives in a small town in England with his tradition-bound parents, where he is routinely bullied by his classmates for his race and his wistful ideals. Javed wants nothing more than to be a writer, and he especially loves poetry. One day his friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) introduces him to the music of “The Boss,” aka, Bruce Springsteen. Suddenly Javed feels like he’s found a kindred spirit. He hears his own longings echoed in New Jersey-born singer-songwriter’s lyrics, which helps give him the gumption to stand up for himself and pursue his own heart.
The movie is based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir Greetings from Bury Park (I did read the book). In it, he describes how, from the moment he heard the harmonica and opening lines to “The River,” Springsteen became his personal muse, a lens through which he was able to view the rest of his life. The film captures those feelings very well, and Chadha’s propensity for schmaltz actually works well in this context. Plus, whether or not you’re a fan of Springsteen’s pop hits, you know them and you’ll find yourself humming along or tapping your toes in the theater. What’s more, Manzoor’s sense of humor comes through well as interpreted by the incredibly likable Kalra. His struggle between fighting for his individuality and respecting the sacrifices his parents have made to give him a better life feels real, but not too “heavy.” First and foremost, Blinded by the Light is a sing-along biopic that’s fun and breezy.
There are some non-Springsteen songs in the film as well, used to illustrate the difference between what “the townies” enjoy listening to – British tunes like Pet Shops Boys’ “It’s a Sin” and Cutting Crew’s “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” – and the more serious, soul-searching compositions from The Boss’s corner of the planet.
The visuals are whimsical – for instance, we see Javed and his friends dance around town singing to “Born to Run” and the lyrics to “Dancing in the Dark” are swirling around him on screen – and yes, there is even a touch of puppy love romance when he asks Eliza (Nell Williams), a girl in his literature class, out on a date. The date doesn’t go quite as well as planned… until Javed starts quoting Springsteen lyrics to Eliza, impressing her with another man’s words (kind of like Cyrano to Roxanne). But the thing is, he believes them so deeply, that they are his own words, too. The message seems to be that once an artist creates something, it belongs to everyone.