Anyone who has sung along to a Bruce Springsteen song will find a lot to like in “Blinded by the Light.” But co-writer/director Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”) has much more on her mind in this inspiring tale, which offers a timeless and echoing look at the settler experience through the filter of the UK in the 1980s.
Inspired by a true story, the film focuses on Javed (Viveik Kalra, in an outstanding performance by a young actor fundamentally took out from drama school) and the 16-year-old son of Pakistani immigrants resistance under the control of his bossy father (Kulvinder Ghir). Fond of writing poetry, Javed’s entire presence is turned upside down when he’s introduced to Springsteen’s music, as the lyrics pour out of his head and into his soul as they unfurl across the screen.
“It’s like Bruce knows everything I’ve ever felt,” Javed marvels, popping a cassette into his portable player, which brands the year “1987” on the movie about as well as anything can.
In most respects, Javed’s is a classic tale of a youth abrasion against the customs of his family. But “Blinded” manages to zero in on a particular moment in British history — as unemployment flew and white nationalism prospered, leading to racial epithets and illegible “Go home” scrawls directed at the Pakistani community — while arousing sore thoughts about what’s emerging today, in America as well as Europe.
Based on a memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor, who shares script credit with Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges, the project has a great deal in common with “Beckham” in the cultural matters it discovers, and using a high-profile figure to irradiate the longing of a teen fighting against what’s expected of him.
At times, it does seem as if the writers have threaded together a roster of coming-of-age movie clichés, including the kind teacher (Hayley Atwell) who identifies Javed’s talent, stimulates him to write and champions his reason. But at the occasional moment when the movie begins to feel awkward, it suddenly detonates into buoyant, infectious renditions of Springsteen hits like “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run” — not as a jukebox musical, exactly, but in flights of fancy that blur into Javed’s productive dreams.
The key, eventually, is that Springsteen’s music activates an arising, one that emboldens Javed to disobey his father’s proclamations, brave speaking to a girl he likes (Nell Williams) and anticipate who he truly is. Yet the movie also has considerable compassion for its supporting characters and incorporates nifty touches involving peripheral ones, such as an unpretentious neighbor who takes an interest in Javed’s work.
Other than the Springsteen connection (and the Boss blessed the effort by granting the producers extensive use of his songs), everything about the movie has a small-boned, independent responsiveness, the kind that often struggles to decoy people out to the theater. On the plus side, another film that combines music and reminiscence, “Yesterday,” has been one of the, well, unsung heroes of the summer.
Whether it’s on a large screen now or a small one later, “Blinded by the Light” represents such a sweet, easy-to-relate-to story that it deserves to be seen, at the least, by anyone who has shown a little faith that there’s magic in the arts — either in music, or a murky theater.
“Blinded by the Light” released on Aug. 16 in the US.