Unless you’ve been hiding somewhere impervious to advertising, then it should definitely be on your radar that the film “Blinded By the Light” is opening nationwide on Friday.
Notwithstanding having covered Sundance for as long as I have, I can’t help but feel somewhat like a proud parent when some of my favorite festival films finally spread their wings with a national release where everyone can enjoy them. Some years there might be several movies that fit that description, but there was no question that my personal favorite film of this year’s festival was this fun but emotional romp fueled by the music of Bruce Springsteen.
As I wrote in coverage at the time, “ ‘Blinded By the Light,’ helmed by Gurinder Chadha (‘Bend It Like Beckham’), burst on the screen in its world premiere like a song lyric that is so perfectly crafted and inherently complemented by tune that it takes up residence in your mind for hours — or even days — at a time. Weaving a captivating coming-of-age story with an ample deployment of the Boss’ gritty lyrical and musical genius certainly had audience members mentally dancing in the darkness of the theater even as the movie’s characters pranced joyfully through the halls of their school and into the streets of their downtrodden London suburb to the powerful strains of ‘Born to Run.’ ”
The film is based on an autobiographical book written by Springsteen superfan Sarfraz Manzoor, one of three credited with the screenplay. “Blinded By the Light” tells the story of a Pakistani-British teen, Javed (newcomer Viveik Kalra), whose dreams of being a writer conflict with the rigid old-school expectations of his father and increasing racism at the hands, mouths and other body parts of local fascists.
Javed’s world is, quite literally, rocked one day at school, when he accidentally bumps into fellow Pakistani student Roops (Adam Phagura), who is listening to the Boss on his Walkman. Roops hands Javed a pair of cassette tapes and the teen’s whole way of life is altered as he immerses himself in Springsteen lyrics, music, attitude and appearance, which in turn bolsters his confidence in dealing with the world as it unfolds around him. Smitten teen boys have been copping lyrics to communicate their feelings to beautiful girls since the dawn of time travel (think “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”), but rarely has it been so artfully engaging as it is in “Blinded By the Light,” which takes us back and firmly plants us in 1987 through the power of Bruce.
In the premiere’s post-screening Q&A, Chadha said that after she and Manzoor got the initial go-ahead from Springsteen, they knew the only person they had to please was the Boss himself.
“We knew that we didn’t have to please financiers or anybody for this — the only person we had to please was Bruce,” Chadha said. “So we sat down and wrote a screenplay for Bruce Springsteen, and we just used the songs as we wanted to use them. What I had to do is find ways in the songs, as if he’d written the songs for our movie.”
Chadha told the premiere audience of attending a private screening with Springsteen and his management team. She said she sat in the row behind him, so she could better gauge his reaction to certain parts of the film. After it was over, she got up and turned the lights on.
“Everybody was waiting for his reaction before saying anything,” she said. “He kind of looked at me. He got up and walked over, and he gave me a big hug and kiss, and he said, ‘Thank you for looking out for me so beautifully.’ ”
“Blinded By the Light” is a glorious, inspiring movie — whether you are overly familiar with Springsteen’s music or not. Do yourself a favor and check it out. If this film doesn’t strike an emotional chord, then tramps like you, baby you were born to walk.
— Doug Fox