Here’s the thing about “Blinded by the Light.” This is not just a movie about an exuberant teenager. This is a movie that feels like it was made by an exuberant teenager.
It’s full of corn, and overstatement, and has a tendency to tug you by the sleeve and tell you what’s cool about a certain kind of music. It contains embarrassing emotional surges and hokey fantasy sequences.
It is a cheesefest.
And it is hard to resist.
The music in question comes from a New Jersey bard by the name of Bruce Springsteen. The setting is unexpected: 1987 England, specifically a featureless London suburb, where the child of Pakistani immigrants puts aside his cultural prejudice and embraces his inner Boss.
This is Javed (newcomer Viveik Kalra), who is suffering through his teen years. He has vague ideas about writing songs, but between his father’s high expectations and the racist taunts of schoolmates, it’s hard enough just getting along.
When a classmate passes along a couple of Springsteen cassettes, Javed isn’t all that interested. By 1987, Springsteen was old news.
But during a windstorm one night, Javed finally listens to the music, and gets carried off — much in the way Dorothy gets carried off by a windstorm in “The Wizard of Oz.” Except the wizard is Bruce Springsteen, and he’s real.
If you’ve ever worshipped at the Church of Springsteen (and if you haven’t, it’s never too late), you already know how music can inspire and uplift. That’s at the heart of “Blinded by the Light,” which sometimes plasters lyrics across the screen as Javed dances around to “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run.”
Many of the sequences are designed as virtual music videos, just the way a teen might dream them up. Director Gurinder Chada, who did “Bend It Like Beckham,” keeps the story rooted in Javed’s day-to-day struggles, but embraces the silliness whenever necessary.
The characters are strictly cliches: the fussy dad (Kulvinder Ghir), Javed’s new wave musician friend (“Game of Thrones” alum Dean-Charles Chapman), a sympathetic teacher (Hayley Atwell) who spots Javed’s literary talent and, of course, a cool girl (Nell Williams) he can crush on.
The film is based on a memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor; he also worked on the screenplay. By the time Javed takes off for a pilgrimage to Springsteen haunts on the New Jersey coast, you might think the film is taking liberties with the true story, but nope: The end credits supply us with photographic evidence that the author did indeed pursue his Springsteen-mania to its logical end.
I don’t know what non-Springsteen fans will make of all this, but it would be reasonable to expect a lot of eye-rolling. For the faithful, be advised that church is back in session.
“Blinded by the Light” (3 stars)
The unabashedly corny tale of the teenage son (Viveik Kalra) of Pakistani immigrants, who experiences a near-religious revelation in a London suburb in 1987 when he encounters the music of Bruce Springsteen. The movie, based on a memoir, is equal parts cliched and exuberant, but finally hard to resist.
Rating: PG-13, for language
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