BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (2003)
Starring Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anupam Kher, Archie Panjabi, Shaznay Lewis, Frank Harper, Juliet Stevenson, Shaheen Khan, Ameet Chana, Pooja Shah, Paven Virk, Trey Farley and Preeya Kalidas.
Screenplay by Gurinder Chadha, Guljit Bindra and Paul Mayeda Berges.
Directed by Gurinder Chadha.
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. 112 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Even though it is a feel-good sports film, the movie that Bend It Like Beckham reminds me most of is not Rocky or The Karate Kid, but instead My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (Although in fairness, Beckham is a significantly better film than Wedding.) It’s an awkwardly titled (a reference to former Manchester United star David Beckham) look at a young girl trying to find her life amongst an old-fashioned (and extremely boisterously loud) ethnic family. She tries to break out and find a calling that she is passionate about (in this case playing football), but the girl power ethos of the film doesn’t change the fact that she doesn’t feel completely successful until she finds a hunky guy to love her. It even has its own wedding, though it’s a nice plot point that it’s an inconvenience for our heroine. Welcome to the feminist films of the new millennium.
On the plus side, our two heroines, Jess (Parminder Nagra) and Jules (Keira Knightley) are very likable. They are able to convincingly portray their love of the game and their hunger to reach a professional level. They are easily the best part of this film, and they make you feel for them, as they have to fight and fool their parents to play the game they love.
Sadly, the family subplots just weigh this film down. Both pairs of parents are sort of cartoon stereotypes — Jess’ parents are unyielding Indians who still cling to past traditions. Jules’ parents are even more annoying. They try to be liberal and identify with their tomboy daughter, but essentially they are dolts who have no understanding of her and take leaps of logic that beggar belief.
The film works much better when it just concentrates on two good friends who share a love of sports. For a film about two women who want nothing more than to become professional soccer players, there is a kind of weird subplot when they suddenly start fighting over the affections of their coach. It’s even more disconcerting when he returns the affections of one of the girls… after all they are 17-year-old high school students and he an adult who is supposed to be their teacher.
All of this, of course, leads to the big match, in which the girls get a chance to win the championship in front of the professional scout who can get them full scholarships to play in the United States. If you don’t know how it ends already then you’ve never seen one of these films. It may not be a surprise, but it is a fun and rousing finale. Bend It Like Beckham is a likable enough, if slight, variation of the classic sports film structure. I’m not sure if it deserves to be the biggest foreign film of the year, as it seems to be becoming. (Man on the Train and Swimming Pool are infinitely better.) It works just fine as a popcorn chick flick, though. (4/03)
Copyright ©2003 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 23, 2003.