“BLINDED BY THE LIGHT”: E Street transcendence

“BLINDED BY THE LIGHT” My rating: B+  (Opens wide on Aug. 14)
117 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
Published August 13, 2019 by Robert W. Butler at Butler’s Cinema Scene


“Blinded by the Light” is a valentine to Bruce Springsteen and his music.

But it’s a whole lot more.

Based on Sarfraz Manor’s memoir of growing up in provincial Britain, the latest from director Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”) is infused with the Boss’s art and ethos, but it is also a surprisingly moving coming-of-age story.

And in newcomer Viveik Kalra the film has a sweet, absolutely huggable hero whose dreams and travails become our own.

Life sucks for Javed (Kalra), whose immigrant Pakistani family lives in a characterless burg outside London.

His domineering, traditionalist father, Malik (Gulvinder Ghir), works in an auto plant; his mother Noor (Meera Ganatra) operates a tailoring shop out of the home. Jared’s two sisters glumly await the day their father will pick a husband for them.

At school Javed is viewed as a nerd hardly worthy of contempt…even so he finds himself subjected to the roiling anti-immigrant hatred brewing on the streets of Thatcher-era Britain (the setting is the mid-1980s).

In short, Javed is ripe for a major transformation when his equally uncool Sikh buddy Roops (Aaron Phagura) hands over to him two Springsteen tapes (“Darkness on the Edge of Town” and “The River”) with the admonition that Javed’s life is about to change.

No shit.

Ben Smithery’s camera zeroes in on Javed’s features as he gets his first listen to the Boss, and what passes across Kalra’s face can only be described as religious ecstacy. Springsteen’s music speaks directly to our man; songs about being an outsider, about the desperate need to escape a suffocating present, about finding redemption in cars and girls and rock ‘n’ roll.

Chadha ups the ante with a fantastic visual fillip: The actual song lyrics appear on the screen, enveloping Javed like a halo of words.  And throughout “Blinded…” she employs projections of Boss lyrics on walls, clouds…what had once been dreary slice of working-class England now seems charged with possibilities.

Soon Javed is sporting red bandana, jean jacket and sleeveless flannel shirt in honor of his hero. His Beatle-ish hair gets a James Dean makeover.

Not that this makes him any more popular at school, where most of the kids regard Springsteen as a has-been and emulate the outrageous fashion sense of Boy George. At least there’s an activist girl (Nell Williams) who’s showing our man a bit of interest, not to mention an English teacher (Haley Atwell) who encourages him to write his own poetry/lyrics.

At home, though, things are tough. Dad is laid off at the factory; every day the old man dons a business suit to haunt the unemployment office. For a man who prided himself on his self-sufficiency, this is a crippling emotional setback that brings out his worse penny-pinching tendencies and patriarchal excesses. Even more humiliating, he now must ask his wife to take in even more work to make ends meet.

Jared’s Springsteen mania alienates even his best bud, Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman), who has organized his own band. At least Matt’s dad (Rob  Brydon) is an old Boss fanatic.

If there’s a beef against “Blinded by the Light” it’s that at two hours the film loses some of its narrative steam.

On the other hand, a big chunk of the movie is devoted to Springsteen’s music, and cutting back on any of it would be a crime against humanity. (Among the film’s happy fallout will be the rediscovery of early Bruce — from “Born to Run” through “Born in the U.S.A.” — by a whole new audience…I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that those albums once again become best sellers.)

In short, “Blinded by the Light” is a little gem of humanism powered by Chadha’s deep affection for her characters and Bruce Springsteen’s artistry. It’ll leave  you feeling that you’ve visited the Promised Land.

| Robert W. Butler 

Read the original review and more reviews at Butler’s Cinema Scene

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Robert W. Butler for 41 years reviewed films for the Kansas City Star. In May 2011 he was downsized.

He couldn’t take the hint.

OKAY, so here’s the deal. I write mostly about movies. One good thing about no longer writing for the paper is that I’m free to ignore the big dumb Hollywood turkeys that don’t interest me. So don’t expect every blessed release to be written about here. Many films aren’t worth the effort. Besides, at my age it’s not the $8. It’s the two hours.

UPDATE: OCTOBER, 2014: Well, here’s an interesting twist. The Star wants me back as a freelance film reviewer!!! Apparently enough time has passed that they cannot be accused of firing me so that they can rehire me at a fraction of my original pay (I gather the federal government frowns upon that practice.) So from now on I will probably be reviewing a movie a week for the newspaper.