Directed by Metin Hüseyin, starring Ayesha Dharker, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Kathy Burke, Chandeep Uppal, Anna Brewster, Meera Syal, Lynn Redgrave, Max Beesley, Mark Williams.
Adapted by Meera Syal ('Goodness Gracious Me', 'The Kumars at No 42') from her own novel, this rights-of-passage comedy-drama tells the bittersweet story of twelve-year-old Meena, an only child of ambitious Indian parents, growing up in the early 1970s in a working-class Black Country village.
With her thick brummie accent, the adolescent Meena (impressive newcomer Chandeep Uppal) is more interested in her Jackie comics – which teach her how to attract boys through morse code, her dreams of becoming a "blonde writer," and simply fitting in with her English peers. She idolises new neighbour Anita (Anna Brewster) - tall, blonde and, at 14, with two years' added sophistication and sass - and the pair form a tentative friendship when Meena wheedles into her gang, the Wenches.
Meena struggles with parental pressure over impending entrance exams for a posh grammar school. She encounters prejudice from the villagers, either malicious or just tactlessly naïve. Meanwhile, Anita's nasty, sluttish mother (Kathy Burke) makes life a misery for her and her young sister. Anita's blossoming relationship with an older local skinhead is at the heart of the story, setting the girls on a collision course.
Much of the charm of 'Anita and Me' comes from the cast of television comedy regulars (Mark Williams of 'The Fast Show' plays a hippy vicar, while writer Syal does a turn as a dippy Indian auntie), but it also feels at times more like a television drama. The accents and nightmare fashions give an initial impression that the film is covering similar territory to 1970s-set sitcom, 'The Grimleys'.
Glam rock and flares are naturally present - Gary Glitter is on the soundtrack - but 'Anita and Me' manages to transcend such kitsch roots. Its village setting cleverly side-steps the gritty realism which could have made such material a hard slog if it had been set down the road in inner-city Birmingham.
A snapshot of emerging racial discontent in early 1970s Britain, Syal's screenplay has just enough depth to justify its presence on the big screen. The Asian family's sense of dislocation is well observed and, although some of the comic set pieces feel a bit contrived (Meena's family performing 'Hi Ho Silver Lining', Indian-style), much of the humour comes from subverting Indian stereotypes.
Thought provoking and entertaining, 'Anita and Me' is never hilarious but always likeable.