We were all ‘Born to Run’ away from ‘Blinded by the Light’

There is not enough denim in the world to save this trainwreck of a movie.
Actor Viveik Kalra portrays a teenager desperate to escape his hometown who falls in love with the music of Bruce Springsteen in the film “Blinded by the Light”. Courtesy of IMDb

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you forced a robot to listen to Bruce Springsteen’s entire discography and then immediately write a movie script? Well, I am confident that the result would be “Blinded by the Light,” a movie that is so unfocused and cheesy that it is almost charming. Unfortunately, the movie consistently fails to answer the ultimate question of “wait, why was this movie made?”

The movie centers around Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra), a teenager living in England in 1987. Like Bruce Springsteen, Javed desperately wants to get out of his hometown. He feels stifled by his parents who are immigrants from Pakistan, the bigots in his town who spit on him and graffitti his home and by his own feelings of inadequacy that cloud his judgment and sense of self-worth.

When Javed starts at a new school, he meets Roops (Aaron Phagura), the only other student of South Asian descent. Roops, in an act of kindness that the audience will never forgive him for, introduces Javed to the music of Bruce Springsteen.

That night, Javed puts the Springsteen cassette tapes into his Walkman and performs what can only be described as teenage rage. He kicks his nightstand, slams his door and leans against a garage while staring up at the sky in disbelief and angst. The scene is plenty dramatic, but to add to it, the whole thing takes place in the dead of night during an inexplicable wind storm.

Falling in love with Springsteen’s music has diametric effects on Javed. On the one hand, the lyrics push him to be brave. He allows others to read his poems for the first time (spoiler alert: he is a poet prodigy), he sings to his crush Eliza (Nell Williams) and he stands up to his suffocating dad, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir).

But Springsteen’s music also has an overwhelmingly negative effect on Javed. Mainly, he turns into an obsessive jerk who can’t for a moment stop quoting his idol, even if he is about to make out with a girl or is having a serious moment with his parents.

The cult-like obsession of Springsteen’s music is exactly the problem that “Blinded by the Light” runs into. Instead of honoring Springsteen’s music and using it as a catalyst for character development, the movie ends up relying on it in a way that is both lazy and uninspiring.

The failure in execution is sad for this movie because it held tremendous potential. Javed is a character that is impossible to root against, even if he is one-dimensional and goofy. Springsteen’s music is universal and poetic, and the cinematography and costumes of the 1980s are sentimental and fun.

Despite the charm of the movie and the nostalgia that immediately captures the audience, the production choices are questionable at best and plainly absurd at worst. Maybe the ultimate lesson from “Blinded by the Light,” – a lesson that should have been learned from “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocketman,” – is that not every music legend needs to have their story and music translated into underdeveloped and uninspiring movies.

Edited by Joe Cross | jcross@themaneater.com

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