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       JANUARY 29, 2019


Blinded by the Light is an irresistible movie. You may be initially dubious about its premise—a coming-of-age 80s-set story about a young British Pakistani boy who discovers his identity by listening to Bruce Springsteen—but you will inevitably succumb to its charms. You may think the film’s sentimentality is too much, but you’ll be in tears by the end. It’s a rapturously joyous, heartfelt, and genuinely insightful film not just about The Boss, but about the personal nature and power of music. About how art in general can shape and affect one’s life in substantial ways—especially during the advent of adolescence. Admittedly it’s currently January and we have a lot of road ahead of us, but I have no doubt that by the time 2019 is done, Blinded by the Light will stand as one of the year’s best films.

Based on the life of journalist and the movie’s co-writer Sarfraz Manzoor, Blinded by the Light opens in 1987 in the small town of Luton, which sits about 200 miles outside London. Javed (Viveik Kalra), the only son of a British Pakistani family, is finding it hard to fit in at his new school, clinging to the New Wave band he shares with a childhood friend (Game of Thrones actor Dean-Charles Chapman) as his only substantial social engagement. When his strict father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) gets laid off after over a decade of service at a local factory, the pressure at home mounts for Javed to pass his A levels and land a job in business, after which he can support a family of his own.

But unbeknownst to his mother and father, Javed has chosen to study English, and is spurred by his teacher Miss Clay (Hayley Atwell)—a woman who does not keep her negative opinions of Margaret Thatcher’s England to herself—to share some of his poetry and writing. Despondent over the tense financial situation at home, one night Javed throws all his poems in the trash outside and pops in a Bruce Springsteen cassette tape loaned to him by a new friend a school, Roops (Aaron Phagura). The minute he begins listening to the lyrics of “Dancing in the Dark,” Javed’s life is changed. The sequence plays out in unforgettable fashion, as the lyrics from the song flash across the screen, underlining how personally they hit home for Javed, after which he struggles to collect his discarded poems in the midst of a wind storm. After this fateful night, Javed subsequently becomes obsessed with Springsteen, clinging to the singer’s lyrics about working class life and how dreams can’t become a reality until you actually do something about them.

Springsteen’s music helps Javed cope with nasty neo-Nazi skinheads in his neighborhood, his desire to find a girlfriend, his family’s financial situation, and most importantly his relationship with his father. Indeed, the heart of Blinded by the Lightis the relationship between Javed and Malik, as Malik stresses the importance of living a traditional Muslim life and scoring his version of success, given that Malik moved his entire family out of Pakistan so that their subsequent generations could have exponentially better lives.


Image via Sundance Institute

So yes, this is a coming of age story and a film about forging one’s own path in life, but not quite like any you’ve seen before. Technically Blinded by the Light is a musical. A number of Springsteen’s songs play throughout the film, usually in diegetic form as Javed is glued to his Walkman. The “Born to Run” sequence in particular is pure, unfiltered joy on screen. Director Gurinder Chadha, who marks her first English-language film since Bend It Like Beckham, brings this unique story to life in brilliantly elegant fashion. The musical sequences aren’t fantastical or otherworldly precisely because Springsteen’s songs aren’t about escaping reality, but about coping and making it through hard times. There’s a grounded nature to the songs performed in the film, not dissimilar to the way the songs were presented in another incredible music-centric Sundance indie called Sing Street. Though don’t get me wrong, Javed doesn’t “perform” these songs in a traditional musical sense. Think of it as the greatest karaoke or bar sing-a-long movie ever made.

Kalra’s performance is the thing “breakout roles” are made of. He’s endearing without being overly sentimental, and he’s charming yet you also buy him as a quiet, somewhat alienated outsider. The role of Javed is deceptively complex, and Kalra never hits a false note whether he’s singing along at the top of his lungs to “The Promised Land” or tearfully confronting his father. Likewise, Ghir’s performance as Malik is refreshingly complex. He’s not a stereotypical demanding father. He’s stern to be sure, and has major philosophical differences with his son, but Ghir fleshes the character out as a complicated human being, not an antagonist here to serve a movie’s plot.

Springsteen’s songs are the backbone of Blinded by the Light and undoubtedly play an important role in the film, but you don’t need to be a Springsteen superfan (or even a fan, really) to connect with this movie. The screenplay fleshes out Javed’s home life and digs into what makes his family and culture unique. This isn’t some glossy film in which Pakistani culture is simply window dressing for Bruce Springsteen songs.

The personal nature of all music is the point of Blinded by the Light. How music as an art form has a unique way of speaking to individuals, and can go so far as to change their life. Music can conjure emotions of joy, sadness, longing, and rebellion to be sure, but it can also spur one to make bolder decisions in one’s life. What’s unique about music as compared to other art forms is just how personal it is. While Springsteen means the world to Javed, his best friend Matt doesn’t quite get it, and instead finds meaning in songs from bands like Ah-Ha and Cutting Crew. And that’s okay! We don’t all have to like the same things. But where Blinded by the Light soars is how Javed takes what Springsteen means to him and extrapolates that into his own personal artistic expression, whether it’s writing an essay or finally telling his father that he wants to strike out on his own.

Blinded by the Light stops short of exalting Springsteen as a be-all, end-all solution to Javed’s problems, and in fact has a lot to say about healthy fandom. The film is all the better for it, as it makes the story personal to Javed and underlines the individualimpact of Springsteen’s music on this boy. It’s one of many inspired decisions on the parts of the filmmakers here, and while there are so many ways Blinded by the Lightcould have gone wrong and come off as cheesy, melodramatic, or downright weird, Chadha and her collaborators absolutely nail every single beat.

Blinded by the Light is kind of a miracle. It shouldn’t work. It should be a silly, saccharine Hollywood concoction. And yet I was on the verge of tears for much of the film’s runtime. The undercurrent of authenticity throughout really lets the emotional impact of the film land. It never comes off as trite or manufactured, and what the film has to say about the universally personal nature of music—and art in general—makes the theme potent for Springsteen fans and non-fans alike.

When the movie ends and you’re wiping the tears from your face, you may find that you want to run through the streets telling everyone you know to see Blinded by the Light as soon as possible. And baby, we were born to run.

Rating: A

Blinded by the Light does not currently have a release date but marked the biggest sale at Sundance thus far, and New Line Cinema is planning a major release this year.


The SPL Rocks!


Pulled up to my house today
Came and took my little girl away!
Giants Stadium 8/28/03


Original Post

Here's another review.

Blinded by the Light’ Review: An Ecstatic Story About the Power of Springsteen — Sundance

The director of "Bend it Like Beckham" delivers a hit about a British Pakistani teen whose life changes when he discovers Bruce Springsteen.

Viveik Kalra, Nell Williams and Aaron Phagura appear in Blinded by the Light by Gurinder Chadha, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nick Wall.All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

“Blinded by the Light”

Nick Wall


Gurinder Chadha’s “Blinded by the Light,” a glorious and almost terminally pure coming-of-age story about a repressed British Pakistani teen in 1987 Luton whose mind explodes when he discovers an uncool American poet by the name of Bruce Springsteen, is a film that feels as out of time as the music tastes of its 16-year-old protagonist. It exudes the earnestness of a Bollywood musical, embraces the familiar immigrant tropes of a less diasporic world, and electrifies its paper-thin but profoundly lovable characters with an optimism that’s as rare in Thatcher’s England as it is in Trump’s America.

And Chadha isn’t the least bit sorry about that, nor about how transparently she combines the warm cross-cultural friction of her own “Bend it Like Beckham” with the exuberance of “Sing Street” before transforming them both with the bone-deep power of the Boss himself (Springsteen gave her permission to use his music as soon as he read the script). “Blinded by the Light” is the kind of guileless crowd-pleaser that will make some people cry a river of tears and others roll their eyes into the backs their heads; it will probably make a lot of people do both. But if you have even the slightest emotional connection to Springsteen’s music — if you’ve ever found salvation in a rock song, or desperately wished that you could change your clothes, your hair, your face — this giddy steamroller of a movie is going to flatten you whether you like it or not.

Despite how fable-like the film can be, “Blinded by the Light” is (loosely) adapted from a memoir by Pakistan-born, England-raised Bruce fanatic Sarfraz Manzoor, who’s seen the Boss in concert more than 150 times. The film distills him into a kid with a similar background but a different name and a more enchanted life. Javed (a winsome Viveik Kalra in his first big-screen role), is a very sensitive boy. Like, has written poems in his diary every day since he was nine sensitive. All he wants is to “make friends, kiss a girl, and get out of this dump.” If only someone had ever put those feelings into words.

Of course, Javed can afford to wear his heart on his sleeve, because Malik, his overbearing Pakistani father (veteran actor Kulvinder Ghir in a heartfelt and hilarious performance) won’t let anything happen to it. He and his seamstress wife (Meera Ganatra) have devoted their their entire lives to eking out a better future for Javed and his sisters. He’s a proud and traditional patriarch who refuses to let his son grow up to be a taxi driver, but he also lives in denial about Javed’s burning desire to become his own man (when Javed complains, his dad replies: “You can choose to be a doctor or a lawyer, so don’t say I don’t give you any freedom!”).

“Blinded by the Light”

 And it’s not as if Malik doesn’t have reason to be concerned. Thatcher’s austerity measures are wreaking havoc across the working class; jobs are hard to come by, and the average period of unemployment stands at more than nine years. Back then, Javed’s dream of earning a stable career as a writer is almost as unfathomable to his father then as it would to virtually anyone now.

Add that to the area’s recent uptick in racist intimidation from the skinheads of the National Front and the garden-variety xenophobes they inspire (local children piss through the mail slots of Pakistani homes so often that one family installs a plastic mat by the front door), and it’s easy to appreciate why Malik is concerned with putting his son on “the right path.” It’s nothing you haven’t seen in a handful of other commercially minded stories about the tension between heritage and assimilation, but the sincerity of Chadha’s winsome cast makes every cliché feel as urgent as it does for the people who can’t escape them.

Javed doesn’t know it yet, but he’s about to be given a way out. Malik thinks Javed is going to school for economics (“Stay away from the girls and look for the Jews in your class!” he shouts when dropping off his son for the first day of sixth form), but our hero has another focus in his mind. Within a matter of minutes, he’ll also have a standard-issue inspirational writing teacher (Hayley Atwell), a crush on the most political girl in his class (Nell Williams), and a literal run-in with a Sikh kid named Rhoops (an instantly and massively endearing Aaron Phagura) who gives Javed two cassette tapes that he promises will offer “a direct line to all that’s true in this shitty world.”

‘I’ve done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning and go to work each day
But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold
Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode
Explode and tear this town apart
Take a knife and cut this pain from my heart
Find somebody itching for something to start.”

It’s like this strange white man from New Jersey is singing directly to Javed — like he’s describing every beat of his life, and charting the kid a course to his own promised land. The lyrics erupt so intensely in Javed’s brain that the words spill out into the real world and splash around the screen. It’s an ugly and unnecessary touch that distracts from the purity of the moment, and one of a few places in which Chadha would have done well to pull back and let the music speak for itself (a chintzy framing device provides another example). Ultimately, it doesn’t matter: The scene will destroy you all the same.

It’s a sublime crystallization of what it feels like to be seen for the first time, and it perfectly captures how Springsteen’s best songs translate the American Dream into a universal language that has the power to speak to everyone’s most basic hopes and frustrations. There’s a reason why Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are one of the most vital and enduring stadium acts in history, and it’s not just because of their supernatural endurance. They can make 80,000 people — even 80,000 people from New York and New Jersey — feel like they’re all coming from the same place. “Blinded by the Light” takes that feeling, stretches it across oceans and cultures and races and decades, and sustains it for almost the entire length of its running time.

Javed isn’t just a fan of Bruce’s music, he’s possessed by it. Chadha encourages him every step of the way, as her movie transforms into a jukebox musical that only cares about one man’s records. She cranks up the corniness so hard and so fast that the film becomes a direct challenge to your cynicism. Many of the scenes that follow are as hard to stomach as they are to resist. It’s rare that a film makes you want to vomit and cry with happiness at the same time, but that’s a natural physiological response to the bit where Javed sings “Thunder Road” at his crush in the middle of a crowded market (complete with a Rob Brydon cameo that’s worth the price of admission), or when he and Rhoops stand up to some Nazi scum by chanting some Bruce lyrics.

Maybe the film’s best stretch comes when the boys lock the Tiffany-obsessed school DJ out of the college radio studio, race through the streets while singing “Born to Run,” and inspire a rabble of unemployed factory men to join along. For such a sentimental movie, the passage where “Jungleland” plays over the violence of an anti-immigrant rally is surprisingly hard to shake. There are 17 Springsteen tracks strewn across this movie, and every one of them arrives at just the right moment. Odds are you’ll either be won over or walk out by the time Javed pops on “Prove it All Night” in order to psych himself up for his first kiss. It’s so, so much, but it cuts through the denim fantasy of Springsteen’s music and finds a kernel of truth in every lie he ever told.

And really, it’s hard not to pity the people who leave before the film gently counters all this American cultural imperialism by sticking up for Malik’s own aspirations, and the history that hardened them. The American Dream is nice, but it isn’t real; one listen to “Born in the U.S.A.” is enough to dispel anyone of that idea. “Blinded by the Light” looks into the most rousing songbook any citizen of this country has ever written to find a truth that doesn’t belong to Asbury Park or Luton or Karachi or anywhere else in this unforgiving world. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, only that you find the strength to believe in your own promised land.

Grade: B+



"I've done my best to live the right way"

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