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Review: 'Blinded by the Light' – Saved by Springsteen

An exhilarating film about a Pakistani British teen's life-changing encounter with the Boss

Rating: PG-13

Run time: 1 hour 57 minutes

Stars: Hayley Atwell, Kulvinder Ghir, Viveik Kaldra, Nell Williams

Director: Gurinder Chadha

En español | Forget the Beatles-themed flick Yesterday, Blinded by the Light is the smashing, classic-rock-fueled, feel-good epic hit of the summer. Based on a memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor, a Pakistani immigrant's kid who grew up in dead-end small town Luton, England, in the 1980s, shivering in the shallow shadow of Flock of Seagulls-era pop culture, it's the exuberant, mostly true story of Manzoor's mental emancipation by discovering Bruce Springsteen's anthems to authenticity, runaway American dreams and working-class heroes.

More reminiscent of terrific coming-of-age films like My Beautiful Laundrette and The Namesake than of jukebox musicals like Bohemian Rhapsody, it's anchored in a generation's experience, and also skillfully evokes the immigrant experience and the clash of generations. Pakistani Britons were long oppressed by paler Englishmen, and the Paki-bashing of the ‘60s inspired Paul McCartney's antiracist song “Get Back,” originally entitled “Don't Dig No Pakistanis (Takin’ Everybody's Jobs).” In Luton, teenager Javed (Viveik Kaldra) and his immigrant parents must put a plastic mat inside their front door because racist kids pee through the mail slot regularly. In the streets, skinhead National Front racists parade and stomp Pakis. Margaret Thatcher throws millions out of work, including Javed's overbearing factory-worker dad (Kulvinder Ghir, a star of director Gurinder Chadha's previous masterpiece Bend It Like Beckham).

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Unemployment doesn't make Javed's dad more easygoing, just angry and depressed (like the factory-worker dad Springsteen wrote songs about). He thinks he's a permissive parent — “You can choose to be a doctor or a lawyer, so don't say I don't give you any freedom!” — though he plans to choose Javed's bride. But when a kindly-eyed Sikh classmate gives Javed two Springsteen tapes, his life is forever changed. Javed wins the heart of a brainy, beautiful, rich, political-activist white beauty (Nell Williams of Game of Thrones) by serenading her with “Thunder Road,” and his dreams are on their way.

Sure, it's a corny story, but you're apt to be swept away by its kindhearted high spirits and tributes to all-American virtues — hard work, inclusiveness, big ambitions, hungry hearts, titanic choruses that make Phil Spector sound like a harpsichord plinker. Hayley Atwell is tops as Javed's inspiring writing teacher, and his family and classmates ring true as types. You don't have to like Springsteen to like the film, though hate him or love him, you'll probably be singing his lyrics as you leave the theater, glad you're alive. It's as good at using pop music to power drama as any Nick Hornby film, and its musical interludes lift the spirits almost as high as Slumdog Millionaire did.

Blinded By the Light makes you feel that everybody's a tramp like us, and we all deserve to walk in the sun.

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