Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
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ASBURY PARK, New Jersey — Have you ever had a moment when you're listening to an album or a song for the first time and you just ... feel it? A moment when you just know in your heart, within the first few notes or words, that this is a watershed moment?
If you’re a music fan, you’ve likely been there. Emotion wells up inside you and it feels like whatever combination of words and music you’re hearing is unlocking some new, sublime state of being.
Gurinder Chadha's joyful and exuberant “Blinded By The Light” documents one adolescent's life-changing moment of musical discovery. It’s equal parts a coming-of-age tale, a commentary on hardships immigrants face, and a love letter to Bruce Springsteen.
The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City earlier this year. It’s based on writer Sarfraz Manzoor’s 2008 memoir “Greetings From Bury Park.” Manzoor, now 48, became a Springsteen superfan in his youth and has now seen him over 150 times in concert.
In the film, Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a 16-year-old British-Pakistani kid living in working-class Luton, north of London. He's going head-to-head with his bullish, traditional father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir). He also deals with racist neighborhood bullies who ridicule his Pakistani heritage.
Javed wants to be a writer. In Margaret Thatcher's depressed, perpetually unemployed England, Malik ignores Javed’s creative tendencies and insists that his son study economics so he can get a good job.
When a schoolmate shows Javed "Born In The USA," his life changes forever.
Chadha’s film is unabashedly corny; and if you’re not a Springsteen fan, you probably won’t find it enjoyable. If you love "The Boss," though, you’ll surely love this movie.
Here are some reasons why “Blinded By The Light” is one of the year’s most joyful cinema experiences, but also why it might not be for everyone.
It embraces its own silliness...
“Blinded By The Light” is a pure and accurate representation of that voracious joy you experience when you deeply connect with a piece of music.
That’s manifested in one of the finest — and silliest — scenes from this movie. The protagonists break into the school campus radio station and defy the synth-loving, pretentious head of the station by sneaking into the studio, spinning "Born To Run" and then dashing away.
They then literally leap and bound down the street, screaming the lyrics to no one in particular. It's such a wholesome, fun scene.
Most of the first two-thirds of “Blinded By The Light” is like that — an expression of joy set to a soundtrack by "The Boss."
… But also earns the dramatic moments
When it finally confronts the Javed vs. Dad conflict at its heart, “Blinded By The Light” jolts you with a heavy dose of drama.
Without giving anything away, a key moment toward the end of the film, where Javed and his father reconcile with each other, might have you in tears. Kalra delivers an impassioned, emotive performance as Javed.
It seems like Chadha is aware that most of the film is very lighthearted, so when she was tasked with crafting the most dramatic moment of her film, she didn’t take that lightly. You feel the weight and impact of that moment for all the characters involved.
It’s so corny
Some of the moments where the characters in “Blinded By The Light” burst into song practically unprompted might have you wondering if the filmmakers are taking themselves seriously.
The aforementioned “Born To Run” scene is an example. In another scene, the awkward British teen Javed sings “Thunder Road” to his crush in the middle of a crowded marketplace while comedian Rob Brydon, who plays his best friend’s dad, bellows along with him.
Most viewers likely will see these moments as fun and joyful, but for some they might be too over the top.
If you’re not a Springsteen fan, you might get bored
There’s enough going on in “Blinded By The Light” besides the music. The film shows the racism and hardship Javed’s immigrant family experiences in ways both stark and nuanced.
Malik struggles to find work and thinks that immigrants must stay humble and practical and not attract too much attention in this harsh world. Javed, on the other hand, rejects that worldview and thinks he ought to be able to do what he likes, even if it means the bullies will make fun of him from time to time.
The story is fascinating and detailed enough to make a good movie on its own. But at its heart, “Blinded By The Light” is a movie about the music of Bruce Springsteen. If you’re not a fan, it might get tedious.
Is it worth watching?
Moviegoers looking for some feel-good, late-summer fare at the cinema will be hard-pressed to find a better option than “Blinded By The Light.”
It’s a movie about how music has the incredible power to make people feel close and connected to one another. And what better way to illustrate that than with the music of Bruce Springsteen?
“Blinded By The Light” is rated PG-13 for thematic material and language including some ethnic slurs. Check KSL.com tomorrow for a content guide for parents for the film.