Pop culture can transcend all sorts of boundaries.
People from different walks of life can identify with one another over a favorite sports team, the filmography of a terrific actor or director or a classic album by a prized musical artist.
It’s this cultural bridge building that’s at the heart of director Gurinder Chadha’s latest feature, “Blinded By The Light,” inspired by the true story of a British Pakistani teen in the 1980s obsessed with an American rock icon.
Chadha is best known for the 2004 adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” and the 2002 family sports film, “Bend It Like Beckham,” the only feature film to be distributed in every single country on the planet.
Universal themes of family and finding one’s place in the world are the foundation of “Blinded By The Light,” which follows Javed, an aspiring writer living in Britain during a time of political and economic unrest under Margaret Thatcher.
He longs to leave his hometown and chart his own path while maintaining his relationships with a strict Muslim family and finds himself intoxicated by the promise in the music of Bruce Springsteen.
There’s a lot going on in Chadha’s work and some audiences will be off put by the film’s inconsistent tone.
At various times, “Blinded By The Light” is a musical, a political period piece, a romantic comedy and a family drama. Rarely do these genres mix together as Chadha smashes styles against each other like a compilation album.
But invariably, the individual pieces of the film are held together by two powerful forces: the bellowing, unforgettable tracks of Springsteen and a star-making performance from Viveik Kaira in the lead role.
An avid fan of “The Boss” herself, Chadha seamlessly integrates Springsteen’s discography into the film, relying on touchstone songs like “Badlands,” “Dancing in the Dark” and “Hungry Heart” to accentuate the tone of the film and bring audiences inside Javed’s mind.
Because Springsteen’s lyrics often unlock the emotions of a scene, Chadha occasionally cuts out the dialogue and cranks up the volume of the tunes while inventively showing the words dancing around Javed. This helps establish a kindred spirits relationship between Javed and the unseen rock and roller.
Musically, “Blinded By The Light” doesn’t go full bore into Springsteen’s catalog in the same way as recent musical films “Rocketman” with Elton John or “Bohemian Rhapsody” with Queen do.
“The Boss” is more the soundtrack for moments rather than the subject of the film.
A pair of dance numbers choreographed to “Born To Run” and “Thunder Road” don’t exactly fit with the rest of the film but work incredibly well on their own in a sort of homage to classic 1980s John Hughes films.
One of the film’s greatest strengths is the quality of its cast, comprised mainly of fresh faces to American cinema.
Kaira brings an emotional earnestness to Javed, a conflicted teen struggling to find himself amid familial, societal and political pressures. Usually, these coming of age tales focus on a single major obstacle, but “Blinded By The Light” forces Kaira to take on a lot very quickly and the young actor succeeds at rolling with the challenges presented on a scene by scene basis.
The actors pushing Javed are exceptional as well and Kulvindir Ghir’s excellent work as Javed’s father Malik cements the father/son dynamic as a core piece of a film that tries and largely succeeds at being more than a simple love letter to Springsteen.
Everything about “Blinded By The Light” has been done before in one way or another, but the way in which this particular story is told, its special lead performance and the universal themes it espouses make the film something almost every moviegoer can readily identify with.
A film that doesn’t particularly excel at any one aspect but is more than the sum of its parts, “Blinded By The Light” is the rare August release that must be seen in theaters.