Anita and Me (12A)
There is a saying that every person has a book in them. In terms of films, everyone has a rites-of-passage movie in them, and this one is Anglo-Asian writer Meera Syal’s.
Anita and Me is the story of a young Anglo-Asian girl growing up in the Black Country in the 1970s and her growing obsession with becoming part of local bad girl Anita’s gang, the wenches.
Anita is newcomer Anna Brewster, while the ‘me’ of the title is Meena, played by another new discovery, 12-year-old Chandeep Uppal. Both bring a combination of realism and burgeoning adolescence to the film, while Syal’s script manages to capture the feel of the Seventies with its dodgy fashions, crazy music and casual racism between black and white.
Lonely, out of place, fed-up with her parents and desperate to be accepted in the neighbourhood, Meena tags onto Anita – mouthy, strutting, clever but still on the wrong side of legal – and begins to appreciate some of the wilder things that all teenagers get up to at some time or other.
What Syal, best known for her work on TV’s Goodness Gracious Me, has done is create a time capsule of growing up in the ‘70s. It is seen from an immigrant’s perspective but, like Gurinder (Bend it Like Beckham) Chadha’s work it is at times very funny as well as being packed with considered one-liners and observational humour.
Syal and Chadha previously collaborated on the feature Bhaji on the Beach, but seem to have become somewhat estranged in the years since. Chadha has gone on to corner the market somewhat in comedic stories featuring quirky Asian families; now Syal appears to be trying to redress the balance.
Like Chadha she has constructed some excellent supporting roles for a cast that shouts its credentials from the rooftops. Max Beesley is the long-haired youth at the end of the street, Mark (The Fast Show) Williams the groovy local vicar, Kathy Burke the white trash mother whose anti-Asian sentiments are barely hidden.
There are also good parts for Sanjeev Bhaskar and Ayesha Dharker, the latter the girl who gave a fabulous performance as the titular bomb-carrier in The Terrorist. Sixties star Lynn Redgrave even crops up, barely recognisable, as a racist old bitch who runs the corner shop.
The racism that was central to unacceptable television shows of the past like Love Thy Neighbour is highlighted but never made laboured; Syal is smart enough not to soak her story in vitriol, but makes several of her characters all the more human by having them exist beneath a thinly-veiled veneer of tolerance.
Throw in a sensational ‘70s soundtrack and Anita and Me succeeds in being a pleasant little snapshot of an era that is all too often sneered at.