Viveik Kalra stars as a British teenager in 1987 whose life is changed when he hears the tunes of Bruce Springsteen in “Blinded by the Light.”
When the world turns crazy, you turn to The Boss.
From cultural strife and political turmoil to climate crises and child separation at the border, it’s all pretty inescapable these days. Between the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, and potential threats that hit too close to home, there’sÂ a palpable feeling of unease thatâ€™s hard to shake.
So how about powering off the talking heads and constant arguments on cable news, logging out of Twitter and going to see â€œBlinded by the Lightâ€ (â˜…â˜…â˜…Â½ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters nationwide Friday)? While the outside might still be a bit of a dumpster fire when you get out, itâ€™ll remind you of the importance of chasing dreams and loving yourself as well as others.
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The big screen has always been used as a great escape, but director Gurinder Chadhaâ€™s wonderfully feel-good film is different than the likes of an “Avengers: Endgame.” Inspired by a very cool true story, â€œBlinded by the Lightâ€ featuresÂ a relatable Pakistani Muslim teenager who has to save his own universe, facingÂ problems in 1987 that are still very real in 2019, though he’s powered heart and soul by the tunes ofÂ Bruce Springsteen.
The promised land of London feels so far away to Javed (Viveik Kalra) from his working-class hometown of Luton. He harbors dreams of being a poet and a writer, though he hasnâ€™t found his voice yet. He grows apart from his childhood best friend (Dean-Charles Chapman) as personalities and musical tastes change. His traditional father (Kulvinder Ghir) works in a factory during a down economic time and can be overbearing â€“ he wants Javed to study hard so he can get a good job, and views his son’s writing as a “hobby.”Â Javed sees xenophobia all around him, whether it’s a skinhead spray painting â€œPakis Outâ€ on a wall or laughing little kids urinating through the mail slot of a family friendâ€™s home.Â
Itâ€™s all a little much for Javed. But right when he needs it the most, Springsteen comes into his life â€“ or, more accurately, gets dropped in front of him via cassette tape. Javed meets Sikh classmate Roops (Aaron Phagura), a denim-clad, turban-wearing Springsteen acolyte who preaches the gospel of The Boss, and Javed instantly findsÂ a deep connection with the American from Asbury Park, New Jersey: â€œItâ€™s like Bruce knows everything Iâ€™ve ever felt, everything Iâ€™ve ever wanted.â€
As Springsteenâ€™s words magically swirl around Javed onscreen and get ingrained in his spirit, he goes on a journey of self-discovery to find his place in this mixed-up worldÂ as well as within his own struggling, loving family.
That road isÂ tough, too, as Javedâ€™s sister has a wedding day that coincides with the extreme-right National Front marching through the streets, brandishing closed fists and open hate, while equally defiant counterprotesters and innocent bystanders get caught in the melee. The scene is a reminder of white nationalismâ€™s rise in present day and specifically the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally and death of Heather Heyer two years ago this week.Â
But â€œBlinded by the Lightâ€ combats anger with understanding and fights intolerance with joyful noise. When a writing contest gives Javed a chance to visit America â€“ and drop by Asbury Park â€“ heâ€™s greeted by a burly customs agent who’s psyched the kidâ€™s hitting up Springsteenâ€™s hometown rather than giving him side eye.
Itâ€™s safe to assume that when Springsteen wrote, â€œEverybodyâ€™s got a hungry heart,â€ he didnâ€™t have a certain skin color in mind. His music, the stuff that changes Javed’s life,Â speaks to a legion of loyal fans and a newer generation who can relate to his infectious, revolutionary spirit of breaking free from what binds us. In that sense, â€œBlinded by the Lightâ€ isnâ€™t a cure-all, but could be a salve to those who could use the healing.
In one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, Javed and his activist love interest Eliza (Nell Williams) embark on a glorious, mischievous romp out of school and through Luton, singing â€œBorn to Runâ€ and dancing with literally everyone whoâ€™ll join them. The songÂ is an ode to that youthful yearning to escape toward something better, and these lines that Javed and his friends croon feel like a rallying cry for bringing us all together during divided times: â€œTogether we could break this trap / We’ll run till we drop, babyÂ we’ll never go back.â€
Who can argue when The Boss says so?
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Daniel Hulshizer, AP Danny Clinch, Vote for Change Jason DeCrow, AP