You can count Blinded by the Light among the films ready to capitalize on nostalgia. A love letter to Bruce Springsteen, the film’s earnest and lighthearted story makes for a breezy, fun watch, but sometimes errs into too earnest, prompting cringes instead of cheers.
In 1987, Javed (Viveik Kalra), a 16-year-old British Pakistani boy, lives in the small town of Luton, in Margaret Thatcher’s England. Constantly faced with a critical father and racist threats, Javed just wants to escape his small town for the wider world. Heck, he’d settle for London or Manchester. When a friend introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen, Javed feels an intense connection with the American icon, leading him to take charge of his life and pursue his passion of becoming a writer.
Blinded by the Light isn’t quite a comedy and isn’t quite a musical. There are scenes of singing required to suspend disbelief, but mostly these scenes come across like giant sing-alongs instead of embedded into the story itself. Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) emphasizes Springsteen’s lyrics with graphics overlaying the scene, and more viscerally by projecting them onto walls and spaces that the characters inhabit. It’s creative little slices of music video within your standard indie.
The most captivating aspect of the film is its take on racism. Here, it’s less the star of the show and instead constantly lurks in the background and in fleeting moments. As a Pakistani family living in 1980’s England, they see first hand the rise of skinheads and the National Front as their cars and homes are tagged with jeers and threats. Javed, as a first-generation child, feels torn between two cultures. He doesn’t want to disrespect what his family has gone through for him, but he wants to excel within British culture, as a born and raised Brit. In echoes of the iconic film, Selena, Javed’s father tells him in a moment of frustration, “You will always be Pakistani [to them]! You will never be British!” It’s a tension that many have experienced, not just in the UK but all over the world, and it feels especially prescient in our time, with hate crimes on the rise.
Blinded by the Light is a sweet, fizzy film about the power of music to connect people across time and place. Javed is so earnest in his love for Springsteen, the film can veer too far into sheer cheer, resulting in goofy cringing instead of joyful celebration. Its determined cheeriness in the face of the problems of the day can feel hokey instead of uplifting.
While the film can feel overly saccharine, its willingness to take on the darker parts of the time, coupled with the fact that the film is based on a real person, who’s seen Springsteen over 150 times, results in an enjoyable film full of nostalgia and hope. Obviously, it’s a must-see for any Springsteen fan, but even if you’re not very familiar with the songs of Bruuuuce, it’s a powerful and timeless tale of how a young British Pakistani teenager can feel like a kindred spirit with New Jersey’s hometown hero.