Thank god for Blinded By The Light. In what has been an otherwise unremarkable summer for big screen releases, Gurinder Chanda’s latest coming-of-age story is like a soothing balm for the soul. A balm, it should be noted, that is made up of two parts Bruce Springsteen.
Based on the memoirs of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, it’s set against the backdrop of Thatcherism and rising racial tensions in ’80s Britain. Or, to give the film’s actual small town setting: Luton.
Javed (newcomer Viveik Kalra) is struggling to fit in at college. The only son of a traditional British-Pakistani family, he relies on writing lyrics for his best friend’s New Wave band to act as his true window to the outside world.
But when the pressure to became the man of the house increases after his father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) is laid off from his factory job after years of hard work, it proves to be the furthest thing from Javed’s mind.
Instead, there’s the small matter of his obsession with a certain man from New Jersey. As the stress of home life becomes all too much one night, Javed listens to a Springsteen cassette loaned to him by his best mate – and it instantly changes his life.
Springsteen, it soon transpires, is his gateway to the world. It helps him deal with the neo-Nazis who are constantly plaguing his neighbourhood, and inspires his unshakeable desire to escape Luton and study English at Manchester University.
It’s a familiar premise, but one that fits Chadha’s directorial talents like the tightest of gloves. The themes of traditionalism and searching for a new life were prominent in Bend It Like Beckham, but they’re given renewed scope here.
Indeed, Blinded By The Light works so well because it never becomes a full story of rebellion. Instead, it reflects the dilemma of towing the trickiest of lines between keeping your family happy and at the same time carving your own destiny. Here, it is presented in the tricky relationship between Javed and Malik – which forms the film’s emotional core.
It’s also incredibly funny too, there’s a great running joke about Malik’s fascination with Judaism, and Javed being awkwardly caught in the cross-fires of two different worlds is also mined for laughs.
Crucially though, this is a film about the sheer power of Springsteen’s music to inspire dreamers – which effortlessly comes across in the sequences where some of The Boss’ most recognisable hits are turned into full on musical numbers.
The ‘Born To Run’ sequence, for instance, is a joyous trek through the humdrum streets of Luton. It works because Chadha presents it with an refreshing earthiness that evokes memories of Dexter Fletcher’s criminally underrated Sunshine On Leith.
The same can also be said for ‘The Promised Land’ – with its themes of escapism perfectly reflecting Javed’s relationship with his father.
All considered, Blinded By The Light might just be the most refreshing effort to arrive in cinemas this summer. It’s essential viewing for Springsteen fans, but also for 80s nostalgists, anyone who has ever clashed with their family, dreamers, and anyone who has ever wanted to escape.
That’s pretty much all of us covered, right?