The Movie For Bruce Springsteen Superfans Everywhere
Blinded By The Light is based on journalist Sarfraz Manzoor’s book Greetings From Bury Park, but it’s not his story brought to screen. Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha is a Bruce Springsteen superfan, and he used the book to show how Bruce’s music could transform even a Pakistani kid from Luton.
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT ★★★★(4/5 stars)
Directed by: Gurinder Chadha
Written by: Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurinder Chadha
Starring: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Aaron Phagura. Rob Brydon, Hayley Atwell
Running time: 118 min
Bruce himself appears in only one movie, High Fidelity, based on Nick Hornby’s book. Though the High Fidelity movie takes place in Chicago, the book is very English. Hornby cites Springsteen as one of the reasons he wanted to write High Fidelity in the first place. So it’s very plausible that Bruce’s music could have such an impact on a British Pakistani teenager in the 80s.
For Manzoor’s stand-in Javed (Viveik Kalra), Springsteen is all about the words. When his future bud “Roops,” also based on a real person, introduces him to The Boss, he stresses the lyrics and messages within. When Javed finally checks out the cassettes Roops has leant him, it’s only after his father loses his job at the auto plant. Yes, it’s extremely Springsteenian. As a crazy windstorm swirls around Javed, Bruce’s words fly above like the plastic bag from 1999’s American Beauty.
There’s no doubt that the recent run of music movies from Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman had a role in the marketing. But Blinded can’t always decide if it’s a dramedy or a tribute musical. When Javed and Roops respond to bigotry by singing Springsteen lyrics, things veer a little too far into Mamma Mia! territory.
But that’s the great thing about Springsteen. People who love him do so for so many different reasons. Manzoor and Chadra chose this genre to convey the magic of Bruce through this fictionalized story. Chadra felt the moment from the trailer in which Javed tells customs he’s come to America to visit the “home of The Boss” might have been too much, but I loved it.
Springsteen himself gave his blessing to the film, though it’s missing a lot of his music. The film uses Bruce’s Born In The USA hits, which are all quite darker than their presentation on the album. But one of the things that make Springsteen, well, Springsteen is the way he performs from the stage. Five years before he wrote his book, Manzoor described his first Bruce show. That aspect of his fandom is noticeably absent from the film. They weren’t trying to make the fan film Springsteen & I or even the type of coming-of-age story told in High Fidelity.
Blinded By The Light, even with its fictionalized love story (Manzoor never had a girlfriend during this time), is really about a father and son. When a teenager wants to parse what makes him happy, what happens to the parents who have sacrificed to give him the opportunity? That’s a very Springsteen theme. The film also does an excellent job handling the anti-Muslim fervor of the NF movement in Luton. The use of the late Clarence Clemons’ sax solo from “Jungleland” during their version of the “Unite The Right” rally was perfect. When the filmmakers visited Bruce on Broadway they asked him specifically if it was OK to use the Big Man’s notes for the scene. Springsteen, who literally wrote the solo in his head before the recording of Born To Run, told them that “Clarence would like that.”
Also worth mentioning is comedian/talk show host Rob Brydon as the dad of Javed’s other friend Matt’s dad. Not only can he belt out “Thunder Road,” but he can rock a full ‘80s tracksuit like Jim Walsh in the opening credits of 90210. So even though Blinded By The Light has its occasional foray into cheesiness, it was probably that very cheese that caused my eight-year old son to finally learn the words to “The Promised Land.”