‘Blinded By the Light’ is a Joyous Coming-of-Age Movie That Should Have Been a Jukebox Musical – /Film

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(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Blinded By the Light

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a poetry-writing Pakistani teenager growing up in the racially divided, working class town of Luton, England in 1987, who dreams of escaping his intolerant hometown. He unexpectedly finds that escape in the music of Bruce Springsteen, with whom he finds a powerful ally and whose songs soon inspire him to follow his own dreams.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: Who doesn’t like a singular expression of joy told through the music of Bruce Springsteen? Blinded by the Light is directed by British-Indian filmmaker Gurinder Chadha with the same light touch and cultural awareness that she brought to her sleeper hit Bend It Like Beckham, and it’s got a killer soundtrack to boot. Such a killer soundtrack that it’s almost a shame that Blinded By the Light doesn’t become a full-fledged jukebox musical like it clearly wants to be. I mean there’s a whole dance sequence! That’s the one thing that would turn Blinded By the Light into an all-time coming-of-age classic, but even without that element, it’s a vibrant and affecting ode to the power of music.

Inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and his love of the works of Bruce Springsteen, Blinded By the Light is a joyous coming-of-age film rich with as much cultural and sociopolitical context as a Springsteen song. Javed is a sensitive dreamer who feels like an outcast both at home and at school, struggling with the strict values of his Pakistani migrant father in the former, and struggling with racism of an ’80s working class town in the latter. Like Chadha’s best films, and the acclaimed films that depict this kind culturally specific upbringing, Blinded by the Light finds universality in that specificity — which is what Javed discovers when he is introduced to the works of Bruce Springsteen, a New Jersey-born artist whose life experiences would appear to be far removed from Javed’s. But they both speak the language of the outcasts, of the working class dreamer who longs to escape.

But as lovely as Blinded By the Light is as a coming-of-age story, I couldn’t shake the feeling throughout the film that it would have rocked so much harder as a jukebox musical. The movie flirts with the idea several times — when Javed first hears the music of Springsteen, the lyrics to “Dancing in the Dark” appear on the wall behind him as if projected from the heavens. It’s a unique way of showing the power of music, with Javed contorting his body to the music he’s so moved by, but it feels like it would have been even more powerful if Javed ultimately burst into song. Then there’s the film’s standout sequence to “Born to Run,” in which Javed and his Springsteen-loving friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) hijack the school radio station to play the classic Springsteen song, and run through the hallways and through the streets of Luton alongside Javed’s love interest Eliza (Nell Williams) singing and dancing to the music. That, and another scene where Javed inspires a whole flea market to sing along with him while wooing Eliza, is the closest that Blinded By the Light gets to becoming a full-on musical, and they’re the most ecstatic parts of the film.

Chadha has a clear affection for these elaborate musical sequences — sprinkling them throughout her films like Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice — and she has a knack for the cinematic musical language. I’m not sure why she never goes full musical with Blinded By the Light, but I look forward to the day that Broadway or the West End turn their eye to this little coming-of-age indie and turn it into a Bruce Springsteen jukebox musical for the stage, like its spiritual sister Sing Street before it.

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