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Movie review: Sundance favorite ‘Blinded by the Light’ leaves no doubt who’s Boss

Two guarantees come with “Blinded by the Light”: It’ll leave you smiling, and it’ll leave you singing Bruce Springsteen songs for days.

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Viveik Kalra as Javed in New Line Cinema’s drama “Blinded by the Light,” a  Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Viveik Kalra as Javed in New Line Cinema’s drama “Blinded by the Light,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Nick Wall

“BLINDED BY THE LIGHT” — 4 stars — Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Nell Williams, Hayley Atwell, Aaron Phagura; PG-13 (thematic material and language including some ethnic slurs); in general release; running time: 117 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Two guarantees come with “Blinded by the Light”: It’ll leave you smiling, and it’ll leave you singing Bruce Springsteen songs for days. 

Director Gurinder Chadha (“Bend it Like Beckham”) has given us a joyous coming-of-age film about a Springsteen-obsessed British Pakistani teenager. Based on the story of British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, who has proudly seen Springsteen in concert 150 times, “Blinded by the Light” found popularity earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, leading New Line Cinema to acquire it for $15 million — one of the festival’s most expensive acquisitions this year.

It’s easy to see why. 

In “Blinded by the Light,” The Boss comes to 16-year-old Javed on a dark and stormy night. As the Great Storm of 1987 rages through his home in the industrial town of Luton, England, Javed (played by delightful newcomer Viveik Kalra) is also dealing with an inner storm: His father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir) has just been laid off from his longtime job at an auto factory and is coming down even more harshly on Javed, who keeps to himself most of the time writing poems in his diary. 

“How useless am I trying to make words rhyme?” Javed shouts as he runs outside and tosses his poems to the wind. Back in his room, he tries to calm down and remembers the two mysterious cassettes in his backpack — songs a passionate classmate had recently bestowed upon him along with the declaration that “Bruce is the direct line to all that’s true.” 

Viveik Kalra as Javed in New Line Cinema’s drama “Blinded by the Light,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Viveik Kalra as Javed in New Line Cinema’s drama “Blinded by the Light,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Nick Wall

Javed snaps the “Born in the U.S.A.” cassette into his Walkman, and straightaway he’s “Dancing in the Dark.” His eyes light up as Springsteen sings about “living in a dump,” not making progress and feeling tired all the time. Those aren’t happy things, but it’s what he feels. Springsteen understands him, and in that moment, he’s not alone. 

A neat visual effect drives that point home as the song’s lyrics are superimposed on the screen, swirling around Javed’s face and following him down the stairs of his house and out onto the street. Javed then switches to the other cassette, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” and finds the vulnerable words in “The Promised Land” to speak right to his heart. 

“I didn’t know music could be like that,” he tells his friend the next day.  

This is just one of many powerful scenes in “Blinded by the Light.” (Without giving too much away, this is your friendly suggestion to have tissues on hand.) Javed finding new life in Springsteen’s music is a rite of passage, and the infectious scene will likely take viewers on a trip down memory lane to revisit similar moments in their own lives.

Aaron Phagura as Roops, Nell Williams as Eliza and Viveik Kalra as Javed in New Line Cinema’s drama “Blinded by the Light,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Aaron Phagura as Roops, Nell Williams as Eliza and Viveik Kalra as Javed in New Line Cinema’s drama “Blinded by the Light,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Nick Wall

Kalra’s Javed is a pure joy to watch — as is the entire cast. You don’t have to be a Springsteen fan to appreciate Javed’s transformation from being downtrodden to confident. As he comes to find himself in Springsteen, his hair gets taller and he rips off the sleeves of his plaid shirt. He begins to slip the lines to “Born to Run” into regular conversation, serenades a girl with “Thunder Road” — another charming scene in the film — and explains how “Born in the U.S.A” is far from the patriotic anthem people widely perceive it to be.

The feel-good movie also doesn’t shy away from tough issues. Like Chadha’s hit film “Bend it Like Beckham,” “Blinded By the Light” shows a family struggling with cultural divides; Javed’s father wishes his son would pay his family’s Pakistani culture more mind while Javed believes his family to be stuck in another century. As white nationalism riots rage, Javed frequently feels the sting of racism, but he also finds kindness in his writing teacher Ms. Clay (“Avengers: Endgame’s” Hayley Atwell), his love interest Eliza (Nell Williams), his childhood friend Matt, (‘Game of Thrones’” Dean-Charles Chapman), a mysterious neighbor (David Hayman) and Roops (Aaron Phagura), the guy who brought The Boss into his life. 

Springsteen’s music isn’t enough to make tough issues go away, but it does help Javed stand up straighter and face his bullies head-on. At one point in the film, Javed’s father asks, “Do you think this man sings to people like us?” Yes, New Jersey’s Springsteen is a long way from a Pakistani family in England, but as Javed comes to find out, it’s not American values The Boss is singing about — it’s “the best of human values.” 

Viveik Kalra as Javed and Nell Williams as Eliza in New Line Cinema’s drama “Blinded by the Light,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Viveik Kalra as Javed and Nell Williams as Eliza in New Line Cinema’s drama “Blinded by the Light,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Nick Wall

A lot of Sundance films are currently making their way into theaters, but “Blinded by the Light,” which is a love letter to Springsteen and at large a delightful reminder of the power of music, should be at the top of your list.

Rating explained: “Blinded by the Light” draws a PG-13 for language (mostly ethnic slurs) and one slightly bloody scene that takes place during a riot.