Bend It Like Beckham (2002) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and sexual content
Running time: 110 min.
Cast: Parminder K. Nagra, Keira Knightly, Jonathon Rhys-Myers, Anupam Kher, Archie Panjabi
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Screenplay: Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges, Guljit Bindra
Bend It Like Beckham derives its name in similar fashion as the American basketball film Like Mike, from a phrase regarding Manchester United soccer (aka football, as it's known outside of the United States) player David Beckham, "No one can bend a ball like Beckham," an allusion to his prowess with the mastery of physics during the free kick. It's a feel good movie through and through, and along those lines a very successful one, despite the fact that it is, at heart, the same clichéd coming-of-age sports film you've seen in various guises many times before.
Parminder K. Nagra (Ella Enchanted) gives a very nice performance as Jess, the Indian girl with big dreams of becoming a professional women's soccer player. Her parents are not approving of her move to join a local girls league, as she should be concentrating on going to college, especially when there are so few athletes of Indian descent playing the sport professionally, and even less so, women. Her parents forbid Jess from playing, but she is stubborn, and takes the field anyway. She keeps getting into trouble, some of them having nothing to do with defying her parents wishes, as she has been spotted making goo-goo eyes at the fetching Irish team coach (Rhys-Myers, Velvet Goldmine). Familiar pressures soon get the best of her, and soon she must make a final decision whether to pursue her dreams or hang up the cleats for good.
With its marriage of British and Indian sensibilities, which itself is becoming quite common these days, Bend It Like Beckham is another hybrid comedy mixing the culture clash with a genre movie, here the sports film. It's certainly entertaining, with very likeable actors, a killer soundtrack, and lots of well-shot soccer action. There isn't much drama when the team takes the field, as it's never really important whether the team wins or loses, just how well the individual players perform for the scout, which may or may not appear during any of the games. The real conflicts of the film come between Jess and her family, as well as with her best friend, Jules (Knightley, Love Actually), both vying for the attention of the coach. Neither situation is particularly compelling enough to center a movie around, but we enjoy the colorful characters enough to maintain interest in their plights, and the good cheer is infectious enough to win you over.
Bend It Like Beckham is likely to please fans of the sport, David Beckham, and British films with Indian sensibilities. It isn't really a must-see film, as the freshness factor isn't high, as well as the subject matter being relatively shallow. Still, if making you smile is its ultimate goal, Beckham scores it with ease.
©2002 Vince Leo