Girls just wanna have fun. Metin Huseyin's nostalgic rites of passage drama, based on the best selling novel by Meera Syal, traces the fortunes of two teenagers rebelling against their parents and expectations.
Like East Is East and Bend It Like Beckham, the film paints a vivid portrait of the growing pains of youngsters wrestling with their hormones and their divided cultures. The appeal of Bollywood, particularly in British cinema, is still very strong.
Meena (Chandeep Uppal) lives with her parents (Ayesha Dharker, Sanjeev Bhaskar) in the exotic surroundings of a rural English village during the '70s. She is torn between her family's Punjabi traditions and their desire that she get a good education, and the giddy escape of rock 'n' roll.
Trouble rides into town in the shapely form of tearaway teenage temptress Anita (Anna Brewster), the leader of a girl gang known as the "wenches", who love to tease the boys and thieve from the local sweet shop.
Meena and Anita form an unlikely bond, and become blood sisters, vowing to be there for each other through thick and thin. However, upcoming secondary school entrance exams and the domestic abuse suffered by Anita's fast-talking mother (Kathy Burke) threaten to tear the girls apart.
Anita & Me has been faithfully translated to the big screen by Syal herself (who also cameos), and she retains the same earthy humour and quirky eye for detail which made the book such an entertaining read. The fashion faux pas and music of the era are beautifully evoked, providing a colourful backdrop to the tug of war between the parents and their rebellious offspring.
Uppal is a quick witted and endearing presence at the centre of the movie, bringing shame on her parents and Aunties with her antics. Her droll voiceover gives extra insight into Meena's thought and feelings, drawing us inextricably into her chaotic world in which appearances and allegiances are everything. Brewster is something of a disappointment, though, failing to capture the wild and robust spirit of a blonde bombshell, who is, after all, the catalyst for Meena's self-discovery. Supporting performances add spice to a rather tasty dish, notably Burke's battered wife and Lynn Redgrave's acid-tongued shopkeeper.