CALLERI: Bruce Springsteen’s music revs up a forlorn British teenager’s life

Nick Wall, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.Aaron Phagura, Nell Williams and Viveik Kalra star as friends in 1987 London who bond over Bruce Springsteen’s music.

Do you remember the first song you heard as a teenager that figuratively flew you to the moon?

The one that gave you a rush of astonishing satisfaction, the kind of exhilaration you never had before. The song that made you think of the possibilities you faced in a world that was mostly unknown to you.

That’s the feeling that overwhelms Javed, a Pakistani-British teenager living the self-declared nightmare of many teenagers: a dreary home life controlled by strict parents in a falling apart suburb of a grand city, feeling out-of-place at school while dreaming of only one career path, and being bullied by punks who see brown skin and obscure names as the enemy of all that is right with their world.

Javed’s mother and father live and breathe tradition. His father, who works at an automobile manufacturing plant, is demanding to the point of bellowing emotional conflict. His mother oversees, and approves or disapproves, every choice her son makes.

In “Blinded By The Light,” which is a tribute to both teen-age determination and Bruce Springsteen, Javed discovers music that alters his sense of self, his entire reason for being.

The movie reveals that in the extensive concrete wasteland of sprawling London in 1987, under Margaret Thatcher’s anti-worker and anti-harmony rule, the poetry found in the rock and roll songs of “The Boss” can change perceptions and carry hopes to fruition.

Javed’s life is ordinary. He’s not popular in school, he’s convinced he lives in a dump, and all he wants to do is write. It doesn’t matter what, – journalism, short stories, poems of teenage anguish – as long as he is able to write. One day he’ll show some of his poetry to a teacher. He’s also, finally, getting closer to hanging out with friends: Roops, Eliza, and Matt. Culturally, he has to drift away from the synthesizer-pop anthem, “Don’t You Want Me,” by The Human League.

He’s handed two audio cassettes that he’s told will change his life. The albums by Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band – “Born In The U.S.A.” and “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” – do, in fact, propel Javed’s existence into a new dimension. He’s convinced that the lyrics heard on the song “Dancing In The Dark” were written just for people like him. The words literally swirl around his head. Springsteen is chronicling the feelings and situations of the working-class.

“Blinded By The Light” is directed and co-written by Gurinder Chadha. Her “Bend It Like Beckham,” from 2002, was one of the best films of the beginning of the new millennium. With her latest feature, she continues to explore the innocent goals of young people, and she does it wonderfully.

Along with co-screenwriters Paul Mayeda Berges and Sarfraz Manzoor, a journalist whose memoir inspired the movie, Chadha shows a superb understanding of what helps teenagers break free from generational restraints.

Springsteen purists may believe that the title of the film is an odd choice. They will certainly be aware that the song “Blinded By The Light,” which was introduced on his first album, 1973’s “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.,” was not a hit for their hero. The group that took it into the international stratosphere in 1977 was Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. However, the title works perfectly here. Javed is blinded in a good way by the power of Springsteen’s music and message.

The acting by everyone is top-notch, especially from the relatable Viveik Kalra as Javed. Everything rises and falls on the actor’s flawless believability. The fast-paced movie looks good, and although Javed’s father might be a bit too arch and grouchy, that’s a minor quibble. He’s not the only Pakistani-British dad “stuck in another century” who worries about a son claiming American rock and roll as his own.

Chadha offers something not often seen this year at the movies: irresistible fun. Yes, there’s a sprightly production number, which fits perfectly. There’s also truly heartfelt emotion. Love and drama are part of every family.

The delightful “Blinded By The Light” exudes good feelings. It’s highly recommended.

THURSDAY NIGHT TERRORS: Horror movie fans from Western New York and southern Ontario have made “Thursday Night Terrors” the most successful film series in Buffalo-Niagara history.

Programmer-host Peter Vullo’s brilliantly curated collection of fright films roars into its seventh season on August 22 with a showing of director Frank Henelotter’s “Basket Case,” from 1982. The story is rooted in the vengeance of a once-conjoined twin brother.

If you haven’t experienced Vullo’s warm embrace of the devoted crowd (puns and prizes included), put this monthly celebration on your agenda. Vullo told me that each showing is like a joyful family reunion with good scares as the main attraction.

“Basket Case” is followed by “Demons 2” on Sept. 19 (dir. Lamberto Bava, 1986); “The Lost Boys” on Oct. 31 (dir. Joel Schumacher, 1987); “Demon Wind” on Nov. 21 (dir. Charles Philip Moore, 1990) and “Black Christmas” on Dec. 12 (dir. Bob Clark, 1974, original title “Silent Night, Evil Night”).

The showtime for “Thursday Night Terrors” at the Amherst Theatre in University Plaza is 7:30 p.m. Admission is $7. A second screening of every movie follows the first. Times differ for the added showing; therefore, check with the theater or social media for complete information.


Michael Calleri reviews films for the Niagara Gazette. Contact him at