It's 1972, and all 12 year-old Indian girl Meena has ever wanted to be is blonde and beautiful. Which is exactly what 14 year-old Anita Rutter is, the girl who's moved in next door. The girls forge a tentative friendship.
A year ago you couldn't move for gangster flicks, but recent months would suggest that Anglo-Asian comedy-drama is fast displacing the guns and geezers as Britain's favourite cinema staple. Thus, following hard on the heels of The Guru and Bend It Like Beckham, comes Anita & Me, Metin Hüseyin's celluloid take on Meera Syal's bestselling novel.
Like its predecessors, going back to East Is East, Huseyin's film scores with its warmth and wit. There are no surprises here, but Syal's sharp screenplay - updated from the book's '60s setting to the '70s - is littered with astute and extremely funny observations of the decade that style forgot, and perfectly captures the lingering, but increasingly under threat, innocence of those years.
A more explicit treatment of this theme is the central story of Anita (Brewster) and Meena (Uppal), teenage friends growing up in a deprived but eventful Midlands mining town. Battling a broken home and insidious racism respectively, theirs is a bittersweet, precarious relationship troubled by the jealous power-play that can only exist between adolescent females, and ultimately jeopardised by Anita's passive but very real betrayal of her younger friend as she struggles to find her way in the world.
Such material is a lot to place on the shoulders of the two young stars - both first-time actors - but, a few shaky moments aside, they manage to pull it off. Revolving around the pals is a clutch of well-drawn supporting characters - Kathy Burke's foul-mouthed fish-wife, Ayesha Dharker's proto-feminist mum, Max Beesley's leather-clad rocker, not to mention a clichéd but still highly entertaining extended Asian family - who provide the comic relief while never appearing one-dimensional.
Perhaps not substantial enough to be truly memorable, Anita & Me is an intelligent rites-of-passage tale offering more than its teen story suggests.
Bright, witty and occasionally very moving, Anita & Me is a welcome addition to the growing canon of British-Asian comedy, with its heart very much in the right place.