Whether coincidental or purposeful, Hollywood is in a stretch where studios are making movies designed to be carried by the music of popular singers or bands. In the last 10 months, we’ve seen biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, along with films like Yesterday and now Blinded by the Light, which use music to enhance unfamiliar characters.
Blinded by the Light is “inspired by the true story” of Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra), a Pakistani teenager growing up in the town of Luton, England, in 1987. Javed loves writing lyrics for his friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) and poems, but inspiration doesn’t truly hit until a Pakistani friend, Roops (Aaron Phagura), introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen.
Javed soon takes every word Springsteen sings to heart, using them in assignments to impress his English teacher (Hayley Atwell) and to win over Eliza (Nell Williams), a girl he likes. They also help him deal with hard issues like overt racism and a period of unemployment in England that hits the country hard, including his father (Kulvinder Ghir).
Directed and co-written by Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham), the film is a lightweight drama that mostly sticks to feel-good elements. Javed has to deal with multiple instances of discrimination and is growing increasingly disenchanted with the stifling ways of his family, but all of his troubles seem to find an answer by listening to Springsteen again.
Chadha introduces fantasy elements in multiple scenes, blurring the line of reality just enough to make us wonder if what we’re seeing is meant to be taken at face value. Sometimes it’s obvious, as in sequences where Javed listens to Springsteen’s music while lyrics are projected on buildings and structures around him. Other times, characters start singing in a way that’s only halfway in the style of a musical, with some people participating and others just staring at the spectacle.
Unlike the music of Queen, Elton John, and The Beatles, the music of Bruce Springsteen doesn’t quite have a sing-along nature. Only a few of songs included, like “Dancing in the Dark,” “Hungry Heart,” and “Born to Run,” have remained popular enough through the years to be familiar. But Chadha does an effective job of showing that it’s Springsteen’s deep and personal lyrics, in contrast with the poppiness of '80s singers like Debbie Gibson or Tiffany, that makes his music more meaningful and lasting.
Save for Atwell, there’s not one familiar face in the cast, but that doesn’t stop them from making a great impression. Kalra is rightfully the star of the film, as he has an ability to adapt to a wide variety of emotions. Williams only serves as a romantic partner for Javed, but she still brings an element that sets her apart. And Phagura steals almost every scene he’s in with his unbridled enthusiasm.
To its credit, Blinded by the Light tackles some difficult topics while showing the joy that music can bring. Bruce Springsteen may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the movie does a great job of demonstrating the impact his music can have on those willing to listen.