Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Movie Review - Blinded by the Light

What an odd world it is has been for Springsteen fans the last 12 months.  After Springsteen wrapped up a critically acclaimed run on Broadway, he released a Western-themed solo album with no accompanying tour.  Meanwhile, fans will have not one, but two opportunities to go to the cinema to view Springsteen-related movies.  While Western Stars comes out next month, we are currently in the throws of Blinded by the Light mania.

Well, maybe not quite mania.  Despite rave reviews, this little film has struggled to make any money, with around $15M as I write this (and I'm sure $14M of that came from New Jersey - more on that later).  I can't say I'm too shocked - this sort of came out of nowhere.  I guess you could loosely connect it to the recent rock biopics of other 70s icons like Queen and Elton John, but this takes a completely different course.

Here, we get the tale of Javid Khan, a Pakistani immigrant in the outskirts of London, struggling with the racism and politics prevalent in the 1980s (and unfortunately relevant today).  He finds salvation through a hip-friend, who blows his mind with a couple of Springsteen cassettes.  Through the power of Springsteen's music, he gains the confidence needed to pursue his true passions, both creatively and romantically.  It is the story of the fan - one that is very rarely presented on the big screen.

The story is told in the style of a fairy tale.  From the opening title of Blinded by the Light being presented in glittery font, the movie plays fast and loose with its own reality.  Springsteen music blasts into the movie on a dark and stormy night, people spontenously sing and dance in the street, and plot points rely on random contests where the grand prize is a trip to New Jersey.

The most brilliant decision by writer/director Gurinder Chadha is to have Springsteen simultaneously everywhere in this movie, and yet nowhere at all.  The theater's speakers absolutely drown you in Springsteen's music, while the lyrics are boldly displayed all over the screen (in case you can't understand what he says - and I'll admit, I did learn some parts of "The Promised Land" I had been singing wrong for years).  However, you only see glimpses of the man - aside from a couple of TV screens, he remains tantalizingly out of reach.  This truly encapsulates the fan experience - while a few of us have been lucky to meet the man, most of us can only interact with the art.

The movie has strong performances from Aaron Phagura (playing the militant Springsteen fan who started Javid's journey), David Hayman (as a craggly-faced neighbor, who could've been a British Springsteen himself), and Rob Brydon (of The Trip film series fame).  However, I can't say I was a big fan of the lead (Viveik Kalra), who was basically either moping or smiling ear-to-ear every scene.  Also, as storytelling goes, I wish new wave wasn't presented as "the enemy" (there's a throw-away line that tries to appease this criticism, but the sentiment gets cut-off quickly).

However, this is a hard movie to get mad at.  It is so giddy and charming in its presentation, and it is telling such a small tale - nobody is trying to sell you action figures or build an entire Springsteen Cinematic Universe.  Although, I MUST point out that Javid listens to two tapes (Born In The USA and Darkness on the Edge of Town), then goes to school the next day and says "Is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse?", which is from The River!  I almost stormed out right then and there!  I hope someone got fired for that blunder!

As mentioned before, it may not be making much money globally, but I saw it on Labor Day weekend in New Jersey, and it was sold out.  When Monmouth College was mentioned, the crowd erupted in applause.  This movie may have a long shelf-life in the Garden State.

But, in the end, I must agree with fellow LOS writer Steve Snart - it is amazing that this movie exists at all.  In a world where movies are getting bigger and louder, here is a story about someone who doesn't save the world or rise to fame.  It's a movie of the every man, struggling with himself, his career, his family, and his dreams.  It's exactly the type of movie Springsteen would love.