This Is Me

By Taha Ismail | Drama
A young man lives a double life of partying, then comes clean about his lack of faith.

Amir has traveled to London from his native Bangladesh to study and has fallen into his new city's young urbanite lifestyle of parties, dating and drinking. He maintains a facade of innocence when he talks with his parents, but he's enjoying all that London has to offer.

But even as he lives with his older brother, he feels considerable guilt at going against the values of his religious parents, and even more guilt for questioning the faith he's grown up with all his life. Unable to carry his guilt anymore, Amir confesses his doubts over an email -- only to discover his parents have decided to surprise their sons with a visit on Eid. Amir must now come clean to his parents in person and face the confrontation he was hoping to avoid.

Writer-director and lead actor Taha Ismail's heartfelt family drama may have religion and societal upbringing as the center of its conflict, but it will resonate with anyone who has to eschew the path laid out for them by others in order to strike out on their own. Though the storytelling has an authentic specificity in its portrayal of a Muslim family at an inflection point, it achieves a compelling universality through its honest, straightforward emotional journey.

A solidity and sincerity lie at the heart of the storytelling, whether it's in the intimacy of its visuals or the clarity of its writing. The building blocks of the characters and conflict are carefully laid out, offering the audience a deep understanding of who these characters are and what they value. The narrative takes time to portray Amir as a young man on his own: drinking, talking to girls, enjoying independence, balancing his culture with his youth, living his life on his own terms.

Through Ismail's mature, grounded performance, Amir reveals himself as someone who wears his identity openly but not always lightly. He also shows himself as an especially thoughtful person, which makes his inner conflict harder for him to ignore. The stakes are even higher, for the difference isn't just a matter of lifestyle, but of a fundamental way of looking at the world: Amir isn't a true believer, which makes the deceiving of his parents even sharper and more painful. He perhaps takes the easy way out in how he chooses to tell him, but when he can't avoid them, it lays the groundwork for a much bigger break than he anticipated.

Like many stories about different generations traversing different cultures and countries, "This is Me" deftly portrays the ways that children carry the culture of their parents within themselves -- sometimes proudly, sometimes with a sense of burdensome obligation. It captures the intersection of this balancing act with the almost universal drive for young people to strike out on their own, find their own voice and carve out their own identity apart from societal conditioning and cultural upbringing.

But in its moving conclusion, "This Is Me" also captures the enduring bond in families, which persist even in the midst of conflicts and differences of ideas and opinions. Amir worries that by not sharing a fundamental belief that characterizes his family, he risks not belonging. But connection here isn't contingent on sharing the same religion -- instead, it's built on the bedrock of a willingness to listen, and a mutual empathy, love and acceptance.

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