By Ben Thompson
This film is based on journalist Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock n’ Roll, and follows a Pakistani-British teenager growing up in Luton in 1987. Set against the backdrop of rising unemployment, racism and the Cold War, the film’s protagonist, Javed finds his voice through listening to the music of Bruce Springsteen.
If I’m being entirely honest, I’ve never given Springsteen’s music much attention. Of course, I knew ‘Born In The USA’ , a song which despite seeming rather patriotic on the face of it, is actually deeply critical of America. But beyond that, I wasn’t too knowledgeable of his work.
But you don’t need to be a Springsteen junkie to appreciate this film. It’s a coming-of-age story after all, with Springsteen’s music serving to provide a structure.
The performances are all top-notch, and feel wholly authentic. There were plenty of genuine laughs (Javed’s father constantly asking if Bruce Springsteen is Jewish is inexplicably funny) in addition to touching moments.
Some scenes did make me feel uncomfortable – but for the right reasons. Seeing the characters subjected to racist abuse isn’t pleasant, but it feels authentic. It would have been unrealistic to watch a film about British Pakistanis in 1980’s Britain – the era of the National Front – and to expect no scenes that would unnerve modern audiences.
My most genuine criticism of the film is actually quite complimentary, in a sense. I only wish there was more time to be spent on the side characters in Javed’s life – his friends are all entertaining characters, but sometimes feel limited.
But again, that’s a testament to the film’s writing and the performances of the actors. I would have happily watched a Netflix series going into more depth with these characters, and their interactions.
This film stuck with me in many ways – it made me think deeply about racism, about music, about family and culture. It’s not only enjoyable, it’s poignant. And it made me want to check out Springsteen’s discography.
Springsteen couldn’t have asked for a better film to bring his music to a 21st century audience.