Oh, music biopics. How they continually compel me to watch them, and every time I am immensely disappointed. Despite the microscopic lens music biopics examine a specific artist through, the cell structure and contents are often all the same between them. It’s hard to do a biopic well. Music biopics in particular are a banal exposé on how to craft a film in the most formulaic way possible. “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocketman,” respectively concerning the lives of Freddie Mercury and Elton John, are films that make mountains out of molehills, rewriting actual events simply to create a cohesive plot for the sake of catering to viewers.
Recently, a biopic that isn’t a biopic but totally still is, caught the interest of my partner and I. My partner, especially. As a New Jersey native, and subsequent huge fan of Bruce Springsteen, it should have made sense that “Blinded by the Light” would be an enjoyable, nostalgic watch for them. To preface, we knew the movie wasn’t actually about Springsteen, but rather one fan’s infatuation with the musician in the face of adversity and tension from his family and the economic tension of Britain at the height of Springsteen’s career.
It’s hard to recall “Blinded by the Light,” in part because the parts I cared about were the scenes thrown under the table by the film’s clichéd plot. The 2007 memoir the movie is based on “Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll,” by Sarfraz Manzoor, details Manzoor’s early life as a Pakistani immigrant in Britain, quarreling with his British and Muslim identities. It sounds poignant enough in terms of Springsteen’s rhetoric on the working man and rejection of Catholicism, but when translated to film, most of this tension feels lost on impact.
“Blinded by the Light,” as my partner put it, “felt like some high school fan boy’s attempt at directing a movie after only listening to Springsteen’s greatest hits.” It’s almost surreal to see a movie that fits all the clichés of a normal music biopic without even focusing on the musician. Invariably, this makes the movie so bland; the religious, racial, and social tension of Manzoor’s memoir is largely forgotten, which takes away from its ethos. “Blinded by the Light” ends up just being some kids who really like Bruce Springsteen, and as a coming-of-age film, it fails to channel the emotional tone necessary for young adult rebellion.
Immediately after watching “Blinded by the Light,” I went home and listened to Springsteen’s “The River” (1980) in my room, trying to parallel my experience with the record to that of the film’s blind love for it. Instead, I grew close to Springsteen’s music in my own quiet way, one that didn’t require a poorly executed biopic to affirm my fandom.