The new movie “Blinded By the Light” tells a story that fans of a certain New Jersey rocker already know: The meaning of life can, in large part, be explained in the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen.
Be true to yourself. Work hard. Find someone to love. Respect your family. Don’t forget where you came from.
There’s a universality to the songs of “the Boss” that makes them so meaningful to people — be it someone who is middle-aged and looking to the past or, in the case of the movie, a 16-year-old British Pakistani boy in 1980s England looking to the future.
But you have to listen closely to those songs. A first-listen can send someone to thinking that Springsteen is telling them to break free, to get out, that escape is everything.
“Blinded By the Light” is a sweet-natured success, despite all of its sentimentality and predictability, because it listened well.
Its spirit embodies the words of the songwriter: Yes, chase your dreams and take chances but without driving a wedge between you and your parents. Don’t run from your heritage; realize what makes that part of you special and then embrace it.
Combine those elements with a bunch of Springsteen’s best songs, and it’s hard to not like this charmer from writer-director Gurinder Chadha that reminds of her 2002 winner “Bend It Like Beckham.”
Like that movie, “Blinded” is a joyful celebration of spirit, a coming-of-age comedy, a collision of cultures between Asian and British manners, and it’s as eager to please as a puppy.
Our focus is on actor Viveik Kalra as Javed, a teen in Luton, a town of about 200,000 people outside London with a growing Pakistani population in 1987 — and, as we are shown, a growing racist and violent attitude toward them.
Javed turns 16 and makes a juvenile birthday wish: make loads of cash, kiss a girl and get out of Luton.
That clashes with the reality that his strict factory-worker father instills: study to get a better job than me; stay away from girls, I’ll find you a wife when it’s time; and at school, “Follow the Jews. They’re a very successful people.”
Javed wants to be a writer, always scribbling poems or writing in his diary. He wants a girl. He wants more freedom, but there’s less of that when his dad is laid off during a recession.
Times are hard in Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 England — and for teens, pretty much anytime, right? — and Javed is desperate until he is introduced to the music of Springsteen, like “The River,” which hits him hard:
Now those memories come back to haunt me/They haunt me like a curse/Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true/Or is it something worse
“He knows everything I’ve felt,” says this young man with big dreams, pretty much to anyone who will listen.
That ranges from his best friend who sings in a band and who prefers the music of Pet Shop Boys to his writing teacher (Hayley Atwell), who is encouraging his creativity.
But not his father, further building up to a clash we all know is to come.
Chadha develops her film through the family connections, giving Javed some great moments with his sister who seeks her own form of release from Pakistani strictness and with his hard-working mother, as well as through their apartment-like community, where he finds racism, as well as support, in surprising places.
And she does a beautiful job showcasing those Springsteen tunes that she clearly reveres as much as Javed.
Whether putting select lyrics from “Promised Land” on the screen as they impact Javed, to him singing “Thunder Road” to a girl in a crowd, to he and that young woman later staging their own “Born to Run” MTV-style video, Chadha serves up one reminder after another of how we first find music that speaks to us and gives us something to believe in.
“Blinded By the Light” speaks to that inspiration, and sometimes, as Bruce would say, that’s where the fun is.