With so many anthems about hitting the highway with your girl and getting the hell outta this town, Bruce Springsteen’s music is the perfect catalyst for a coming-of-age story. In Blinded by the Light, The Boss’ music is life changing for young Javed (Viveik Kalra), a Pakistani teenager resigned to the modest life and limited prospects that 1980s Luton had to offer. That is until he hears ‘Dancing in the Dark’ and suddenly, his dreams of becoming a writer don’t seem so impossible, the big city not as far away as it once seemed.
The film is inspired by the life of Sarfraz Manzoor, whose book ‘Greetings from Bury Park’ is reimagined here as a crowd-pleasing comedy drama by Bend it Like Beckham writer/director Gurinda Chadha. Though not a musical in the traditional sense, Springsteen’s music does bleed off the soundtrack and into the action, with Javed performing a number of classic tracks in sequences that blur the line between reality and imagination. One dazzling scene set during a thunderstorm sees Javed shocked to life by Springsteen’s ‘Promised Land’, beautifully capturing the elusive magic of finding music that feels like it was made just for you. These scenes are undeniably cheesy but there’s an irrepressible energy to them that enlivens the film, which often becomes bogged down in arduous drama.
In trying to make Javed’s underdog story all the more inspiring, the film piles on too much for him to deal with. Kalra is an innately likeable presence and his wide-eyed performance ensures we’re rooting for Javed from the off, so the addition of so many obstacles and side-characters feels unnecessary. There’s childhood bestie Matt (Dean Charles Chapman), plucky activist love interest Eliza (Nell Williams), newfound best pal Roops (Aaron Phagura), motivational English teacher Ms Clay (Hayley Atwell) and a whole host of family drama all battling it out for screen time, with none of these strands making the impact they could with more focus. The relationship between Javed and his father is the best developed in the film. Kulvinder Ghir portrays the older man as a man of hard work and dignity, who wants the best for his son in a Britain that, under Thatcher, has left him unemployed and struggling.
Though the action takes place in suburban England and not inner-city New Jersey, Blinded by the Light nonetheless channels the essence of The Boss’ music into a potent mix of feel-good comedy and politically-tinged drama. With a positive, be-true-to-yourself message at its core, this is a film of broad laughs and big emotions, but Chadha provides enough dramatic heft that it never feels slight, underpinning it all with a fitting amount of heart, romanticism and working-class spirit.