Anita and Me (2002) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated but probably PG-13 for sexual situations and language
Running Time: 92 min.
Cast: Chandeep Uppal, Anna Brewster, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Ayesha Dharker, Lynn Redgrave, Max Beesley, Meera Syal
Director: Metin Huseyn
Screenplay: Meera Syal
Review published July 9, 2004
Anita and Me was written for the screen by Meera Syal herself from her bestselling novel of the same name. Syal is a British-born woman of Indian descent, and one can tell from her keen insights into the story that she puts a lot of herself into her work. It's a coming-of-age story, but this isn't just about a girl's transition into womanhood. It's also one of coming to grips with one's own culture while being surrounded by another, and one which a young girl wants very much to be a part of, although the dominant culture doesn't seem to have much room for others who don't look like their own. But don't turn away from this film thinking it's going to be preachy, as it is rarely blatant in its stances, and in fact it makes for one of the funniest and most refreshing films of the year.
The story revolves around Meena (Uppal), a young British-born Indian girl living in a small mining town in the British Midlands in the early 70s. She speaks hardly a word of Punjabi, and her Midlands accent is stronger than most people whose families have lived in the area for generations. Her parents brought Meena to England to have a better life for their daughter, but Meena is having a difficult time adjusting to her surroundings, wishing she were blonde and carefree like her 14-year-old neighbor, Anita (Brewster). Meena idolizes Anita for her looks and free spirit, and in many ways wants to be very much like her, but the reality of her life keeps putting Meena back in her place, a place she desperately seeks a way out of.
Anita and Me is a perfect example of how to make a coming-of-age film, as each character is well-developed without seeming to rely on stereotypes and caricature. Credit some spot-on casting for a huge reason why the film works, with an especially ideal performance by Chandeep Uppal as Meena. The story moves forward without ever seeming contrived or settling into predictability, and the direction by Huseyin is always in step with Syal's material. This is a film created by a writer and director that know these characters inside and out, and much of the reason why the film is so funny is because the characters feel so real, we laugh as if events were occurring right in the room with us.
I would highly recommend Anita and Me to just about anyone who isn't annoyed by thick regional accents speaking slang that is not only uncommon for people outside of the area, but is roughly 30 years old as well. If you're patient, you'll soon become adjusted to it, and if you're like me, you'll find it part of the film's charm. Those who enjoyed My Big Fat Greek Wedding should definitely seek this gem out, as its portrayal of an Indian family is just as rich and knowingly humorous. Funny, thoughtful, and in the end, quite touching.
©2004 Vince Leo