From Swifties to Deadheads to the BeyHive, thriving fan bases have always powered popular musicians, and Bruce Springsteen’s loyal, fervid army is no exception. I doubt there are too many people who have only been to only one of The Boss’s concerts. You’ve either never seen him, or you’ve been a dozen times. Or more.
Or 160, like Pakistani-born British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, who is such a Bruce mega-fan that he wrote a book about his passion and has now turned it into the terrifically uplifting and life-affirming film Blinded by the Light. Starring newcomer Viveik Kalra stars as Javed (based on the real-life Sarfraz), the semi-autobiographical film tells the story of a put-upon, lower-class 1980s teenager struggling in the industrial town of Luton, an hour north of London. It’s a world where the crush of Thatcher’s conservatism is palpable, and chants of “Pakis go home!” are heard daily.
Javed copes by spending all day jotting in his diary, writing poems, and dreaming of riding out to the promised land. He wants to be a writer, but his ultra-traditional family frowns on almost every Western influence, and when his father is fired from his job at the local car plant, the struggles become even more real.
Javed is transformed overnight, though, after his friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) lends him a couple Springsteen cassettes. He’s immediately convinced that Bruce is speaking directly to him, and as the lyrics appear on screen around Javed during that first listen, we’re sucked in, too. Sure, we’ve all heard Springsteen lyrics at some point in our lives, but have we ever really listened to them?
Suddenly, Javed has a mission and a purpose, and with the help of his high school English teacher (Hayley Atwell), he goes for it, first writing for the school paper then the local rag and beyond. He may be the lone jean-jacket wearing boy in a world of Flock of Seagulls hair and parachute pants, but he’s found his voice.
Director Gurinder Chadha, who helmed 2002’s similarly-themed Bend It Like Beckham, walks the razor-sharp line between cheeseball and poignant but never falters. It would have been so easy for her to let the film devolve into a mushy, overly-sentimental Bruce love-fest or a goofy singing-in-the-streets musical, and though it gets very close to both a few times, she deftly avoids stepping out over the line.
Though not directly involved (other than giving permission for use of 17 of his songs), Springsteen has voiced his full support for the film, and it’s easy to see why. With adept performances all around and a solid-enough script (which Manzoor co-wrote with Chadha and her husband Paul Mayeda Berges), Blinded by the Light is one of the more refreshing and genuinely feel-good flicks of the summer—a toe-tapping time capsule with a killer soundtrack, whether you’re a Bruce Tramp or not.