An Indian girl from London dreams of playing soccer like her idol, David
Beckham, but her orthodox family would prefer she follow a more
traditional path that involves marriage and a lifetime of cooking the
An Indian family in West London tries to raise their youngest daughter
Jess (Parminder Nagra) traditionally, honing her domestic skills and
teaching her how to cook Punjab dinners--both meat and vegetarian.
Jess' ambitions, however, are somewhat less orthodox: she wants to play
soccer. And why shouldn't she? Jess not only has the talent to bend the
ball like Beckham, she also has the tenacity to bend the gender rules
governing her favorite sport. But her parents don't think soccer is
feminine and would prefer she focus on school and marriage, like her older
sister Pinky. But Jess gets an offer she can't refuse from Jules (Keira
Knightley), who recruits her for a local girls' soccer team, the Hounslow
Harriers. Jess secretly joins the team but tells her parents she has
landed a part-time job at the local HMV record store instead. Her web of
lies quickly turns into a modern comedy of errors as her parents suspect
she is sneaking around with a boy, and Jules' parents assume the girls are
involved in a lesbian relationship.
In her feature film debut, Nagra impressively creates a character you
can't help but love. Jess is a typical teenager whose bedroom walls are
plastered with posters of her favorite idols (mostly David Beckham). And
she's no girly girl either; she prefers to bounce a head of lettuce on her
knee rather than toss a mean salad. As Jules, Knightley (Star Wars:
Episode I - The Phantom Menace) is just as likeable in her first
feature lead. Although their characters are very different, the one thing
they have in common is their mothers' disdain for the sport, which they
see as a big man-turnoff. "There's a reason why Sporty Spice is the only
one without a fellow," Jules' mom warns. Jonathan Rhys Meyers (the
upcoming Prozac Nation), plays Joe--the soccer coach and the object
of the girls' affection. He's not a macho jock character, but actually a
sweet guy wise beyond his years. Bollywood star Anupam Kher plays Jess'
dad, a stern disciplinarian who also knows when to throw in the towel.
Bend It Like Beckham marks his first English-language feature.
Director Gurinder Chadha (What's Cooking) delivers a
teenage-angst/girl-power pic that is involving and entertaining. She
tackles the common coming-of-age theme of bucking family tradition without
pigeonholing the film's teen heroine. I appreciate the fact, for example,
that Jess' character isn't embarrassed by her family's ethnicity and
doesn't spend the entire film brooding about growing up differently, as
Toula did in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She has no qualms about
showing up for a soccer game wearing a sari; she just wants her family to
accept her as a young and thriving individual--even if it means bending
their views about women and soccer. Really, changing preconceptions is a
big part of what Bend It Like Beckham is about. The title doesn't
just refer to Beckham's soccer abilities but also to the way he challenges
stereotypes of the traditional soccer player--much as Jess and Jules do.
But that doesn't mean the film skimps on the soccer action; it's packed
with speedy and authentic looking match sequences that capture the English
passion for the sport, and for Beckham as well.
Bend It Like Beckham is an insightful and incredibly funny look
at how one girl bends the rules of gender, culture and family tradition to
achieve her goal of playing soccer. While it's not groundbreaking
material, it's both sincere and engaging.