Showing the universal power of Springsteen’s poetry

How much could an aspiring Pakistani-Brit writer from Luton and a musician from New Jersey have in common? Prolific and beloved writer/director/producer Gurinder Chadha’s new film Blinded By the Light suggests quite a lot. It stands in the belief that people searching for truth, no matter where they are, can find deep connection. Inspired by the experience of writer and Bruce Springsteen super-fan Sarfraz Manzoor and his book “Greetings from Bury Park”, the film is an uplifting, joyful story of a teen living a working-class existence, who dreams of more than just living and dying in the small English town where his immigrant parents struggle to build a life. 

In Thatcher’s England of 1987, Javed (lit-up newcomer Viveik Kalra) lives with his strict parents in an increasingly intolerant environment where the crashing economy is emboldening the National Front, and immigrants are being targeted, and hate crimes are proliferating. He’s down and depressed about his future, until his friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen. Javed is moved by the songsmith’s authentic messages of desperation and hope. With the help of his new very open-hearted and open-minded girlfriend Eliza, he starts to find his voice and imagine a future for himself as a successful writer. 

No, this isn’t 2019 of England’s Brexit or Trump’s America, but it well could be. Chadha spoke about her concerns about the story being too similar to Bend it Like Beckham, the movie that brought her to the attention of American audiences. When Brexit started really heating up, she realized it was the perfect project into which to funnel her frustrations, fears, and sadness about what was happening to her Britain. (Read my interview with her HERE.) At the same time as capturing the parallels between the awful time in the 80s when the economy collapsed and bigotry flared, she knew it was a story about a boy with a dream. It is in those two elements that the story is anchored, and it’s a small miracle she could find a tonal balance that allows for both dark cynicism and unabashed joy. 

This is a film that celebrates music, to be sure. There are over a dozen Springsteen songs featured, including a new song used in the end credits, “I’ll Stand by You”. However, you don’t have to be a Springsteen-obsessed fan to enjoy the movie, much like you didn’t have to be a soccer fan to enjoy Bend it Like Beckham. What you do have to be, is willing to countenance brazen sentimentality in the form of impromptu street singing by the costars. If the current state of the world makes that impossible, you might as well give up, sink into your BarcaLounger, and mainline Fox News. You’re lost. 

I don’t doubt the fact that this film garnered a five minute standing ovation at Sundance earlier this year. At a time when we keep discovering another mass shooting has happened, or Trump has tweeted another affirmation of white supremacy, we need all the joy and optimism we can get. Gurinda Chadha said Bruce sings about not letting the harshness of life define you: that life is a struggle, but “there are ways, if we stand together, we can come out the other side with hope.” 

To quote the song Thunder Road, “Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night.” When you go see Blinded by the Light, you’ll find magic in it, too. 

4 out of 5 stars