|Bend it Like Beckham|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 30 September 2003|
“Bend It Like Beckham” was a theatrical hit in its native England last year, and became a sleeper this year when it hit American movie houses. It’s easy to see why – “Beckham” is a solid example of feel-good, triumph-over-adversity British comedy/drama, in the mood of (though sharing no subject matter whatsoever with) “The Full Monty.”
The title of “Bend It Like Beckham” refers to the ability of real-life British football (that’s soccer in the U.S.) champ David Beckham to send the ball flying through the air, i.e., “bend” it. Beckham, who appears only as a poster and in newsreel footage here, is the hero of Jess (Parminder Nagra), an English girl who is the younger daughter of Sikh Punjabi immigrant parents, living in a suburb of outer London with a large Indian community. Mr. Bhamra (Anupam Kher) and Mrs. Bhamra (Shaheen Khan) both genuinely want was is best for Jess and her older sister Pinky (Archie Punjabi), but they can’t seriously imagine that it’s best for Jess to follow her dream of becoming a football player, even though she’s topnotch in impromptu games in the park with male friends. Jess is spotted by Jules (Keira Knightley), an enthusiastic member of the Hounslow Harriers, an all-girls’ team coached by former player Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). Jules, enthusiastic about Jess’ talent, encourages her to try out for the team. Jess easily wins a slot, but she understandably feels the need to keep this fact from her parents, who are preoccupied with the on-again, off-again marriage of Pinky. Meanwhile, Jules is getting her own sort of parental pressure at home from her well-meaning mother (Juliet Stevenson), who can’t believe Jules is happy focusing on sports rather than boys.
“Bend It Like Beckham” succeeds because it has a lot happening on many levels: it speaks knowledgeably of culture clash, football, athletic ambition and familial love. Jess’ parents, confused as they may be by her aspirations, truly care about her – they’re never uncomprehending stereotypes. The film is especially good at capturing something that looks pretty authentic – young women who are fully assimilated as English suburbanites, yet trying to integrate this aspect of their identities with being part of very traditional families. The football sequences are buoyant, appealing and exuberant and the cast is excellent, with Nagra and Knightley both very natural and appealing, and Kher registering strongly as Jess’ dignified, contemplative father.
The picture quality is handsome, making maximum use of bright colors in sequences that involve colorful, traditional Indian dress at formal functions. Chapter 7 features nice use of a steel guitar-heavy cover of Tom Jones’ “She’s a Lady” over a football practice sequence, and Chapter 13 contains an Indian-language cover of “Circle of Life.” Chapter 14 has a nice directional car security sound in the right main. In Chapter 15, night photography is slightly grainy. Chapter 26, however, beautifully serves the vivid costumes and Chapter 27 has good discrete big-party sounds. It’s worth watching the closing credits, as there is charming footage of the cast and crew singing a pop song in various takes.
Anyone wishing to find a particular sequence will be gratified that the film is broken down into 32 chapters, making it easy to navigate from scene to scene. The commentary by director/writer Gurinder Chadra and one of her co-writers, Paul Mayeda Berges (the third writer is Guljit Bindra), is amusing and informative. Chadra compares the film to some aspects of her own background and points out an unobtrusive but superbly-executed digital effect at the beginning of the film, with leading lady Nagra seamlessly integrated into footage of a real game. Extras include a making-of featurette, which is agreeable despite some overly breathless narration, 10 deleted scenes – some of which are so good and telling it’s a shame they didn’t make it to the final cut – a featurette on cooking with director Chadra and a music video that features the cast singing.
“Bend It Like Beckham” is sharp, observant, beguiling and, per the intentions of its genre, succeeds in making you feel good. Like its heroine, it’s a winner.