After starring roles for Freddie Mercury (“Bohemian Rhapsody”), Elton John (“Rocketman”) and the Beatles (“Yesterday”), it’s Bruce Springsteen’s turn to join the mixtape that the movies have lately become.
But Gurinder Chadha’s “Blinded by the Light” isn’t about the Boss’ life or how he recorded his hits. It’s about hearing him — and not in Asbury Park but far away in the British industrial town of Luton, where the British-Pakistani 16-year-old Javed (newcomer Viveik Kalra) finds in Springsteen’s working-class anthems the sound of his soul. When Javed, beleaguered by his overbearing father (Kulvinder Ghir) and feeling hopeless in Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 Britain, presses play on his Walkman one lonely night, he’s almost instantly transformed by “Dancing in the Dark.”
The thrill of being turned on to music has long been dangerous territory for filmmakers. It’s precariously easy to sound cheesy when it comes to rhapsodizing about music. There was great joy in Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous” craving for the raw power of the Velvet Underground: “Gimme some ‘White Light/White Heat!’” But more common are cringe-worthy scenes like Natalie Portman playing the Shins for Zach Braff and telling him they will “change your life” in “Garden State.”
“Blinded by the Light” doesn’t so much circumvent those risks; it barrels right through them. Instead of trying for coolness, “Blinded by the Light” is guilelessly geeky, virtually exploding in earnestness. Chadha, who helmed “Bend it Like Beckham,” gives “Blinded by the Light” a similarly unabashedly feel-good uplift that, even if you don’t bow down before Springsteen, is hard to resist. It has a hungry heart.
“Blinded by the Light” isn’t a new tune, but it’s sung with an infectious passion and it captures something sincere about the globe-spanning, life-changing influence of great pop music. With headphones and the right music, anyone can become born to run.