MOVIE BUFF-ET: ‘Blinded by the Light’ salutes the Boss, father-son relationships

Viveik Kalra in Blinded by the Light / Warner Bros. Entertainment

If you’re expecting a romantic salute to Bruce Springsteen and his music, “Blinded by the Light” pulls a bit of a bait and switch.

The film, directed by Gurinder Chadha, certainly is filled with Springsteen’s music, but it is more about the eternal struggle between fathers and sons than the Boss, “but that’s all right with me.”

The film, based on writer Sarfranz Manzoor’s memoir “Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock n’ Roll,” is a powerful comedy-tinged family drama that’s as thoughtful, human, and universal as any movie I’ve seen this year. And, yes, a who’s who of Springsteen songs and 1980s tunes provides the soundtrack.

The film, set in the working-class British town Luten in the late 1980s, stars Viveik Kalra as Javed, a British-Pakistani Muslim teenager, who has aspirations of being a writer much to the chagrin of his father Malik (Kuvinder Ghir).

To Javed’s traditionalist father, who is laid off from a factory job, being a journalist or novelist is not a “real” profession and a waste of time. When Javed accepts an unpaid internship at a newspaper, his father demands that he quit to find a real job to help with the family expenses.

Other than his sympathetic teacher Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell), Javed is misunderstood by just about everyone. At nearly every turn, Javed disappoints his father, who only relates to his son through discipline and transferring his life’s goal’s to his son.

Javed wants nothing to do with his father’s goals for him, desperately seeking to break away from Luten to study literature.

Javed’s goal isn’t a pipe dream. He has talent, and begins to truly find his own voice as a poet after becoming enamored with Springsteen’s catalogue after borrowing two cassette tapes from his new friend Roops (Aaron Phagura).

Javed’s poems even attract the attention of fellow student Eliza (Nell Williams), who he begins to date to the displeasure of both sets of parents.

Layered on top of the coming-of-age story is the racism faced by Javed and every member of his family. As Pakistanis and Muslims, Javed, his family, and friends are all targeted by racists in subtle and much more aggressive methods that add dread to nearly every aspect of their lives. Just walking home from school is dangerous, and a family celebration can be ruined by the ignorance and violence of others.

Javed’s father sees his son’s obsession with Springsteen, writing, and his individual goals as foolishness, while Javed sees magic in Springsteen’s verses that is opening a door of escape from the trap his family’s current lifestyle.

The movie has a tremendous relatability quotient for those who remember their own struggles with becoming an adult. On one hand, you understand why Javed only wants to leave his life behind, and yet there is the tug of family, tradition, and responsibility as well as the love of a father who wants his son to make prudent decisions.

As for the use of Springsteen’s music, it’s amazing how well it fits the story, and how inspiring American rock can be to a kid who hails from Pakistan and grew up in Britain. The Boss’ music is hailed as a universal language.

While the film tramples over deep subjects in an admittedly light manner, the film has enough passion, heart, and laughs for that to be forgiven.

(PG-13) 1 hr. 58 min.
Grade: B

New In Local Movie Theaters

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  • Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne

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Classic Corner – Woodstock The Director’s Cut

Warner Bros. Pictures

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the watershed counterculture festival Woodstock, the director’s cut of the 1970s documentary named after the event will be shown on the big screen once again at 7 p.m. Saturday at the AMC Fiesta Square Theater and Malco Razorback Cinema and Grill.

The three-hour and 44-minute film, directed by Michael Wadleigh, might not be the next-best thing to being there, but until someone builds a time machine, it’s about the best we’ve got.

The movie is solid, detailing how and why the festival was created, the pitfalls and travails it survived just to happen, and includes fantastic footage of the concert itself. All of that was a physical, logistical, and monetary nightmare, but the festival itself didn’t somehow implode despite the overcrowding, lack of amenities, the rain, and the mud stands as a testament to the good will of the more than 400,000 who attended the event held on Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York, actually 43 miles southwest of the intended sight of Woodstock.

As unwieldy, wild, and wet the event was, the music evidently made it worth it all. The lineup of bands, singer-songwriters, and entertainers remains legendary and unparalleled 50 years later.

The film doesn’t exactly fit the festivals actual chronology, but Richie Havens opens the festival and Jimi Hendrix and the Experience shuts it down with acts The Who, Santana, Crosby, Stills, and Nash; The Grateful Dead and Joan Baez playing between.

It’s a documentary that any fan of 1960s and ‘70s music should see at least once.