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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   Bend It Like Beckham  


Bend It Like Beckham

Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei

Director: Gurinder Chadha
Writing Credits: Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges, Guljit Bindra
Cast: Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Anupam Kher, Archie Panjabi, Anuper Kher, Shaheen Khan
Genre: Comedy
Country: England
Language: English
Year Released: 2002
Runtime: 112 min
Rating: * * * (out of four stars)

Bend It Like Beckham seems at first glance to be a movie on soccer – it even has one of the most recognizable names in soccer gracing its title. However, the film is really more about traditions versus aspirations, and about finding the courage to pursue one’s dreams. As such, it has more "chick flick" elements than one would think, and although the plot is nothing audiences haven’t seen before (and bears quite a few similarities to Billy Elliot), Bend It Like Beckham is a true crowd pleaser, and even non-soccer fans will be able to enjoy this little gem of a film.

Jess (newcomer Parminder Nagra) is an 18-year-old Sikh girl living with her rather traditional family in London. Jess is obsessed with soccer, and she plasters her room with pictures of her idol – David Beckham. She’s also actually quite good at the sport itself, but is restricted to playing friendly games with her male friends at the local park. This changes when one day, Jess is spotted by Jules (Keira Knightly – who played Sabe in The Phantom Menace), who invites her to play on a woman’s soccer team. With their combined talents, and the tutelage of coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyer), the team seems destined to go far.

However, Jess’s parents (Anupam Kher and Shaheen Khan) are vehemently against her playing football, and their objections have increased in intensity since Jess’s sister Pinky (Archie Panjabi) started preparing for her marriage. Jules’s father Mike (Frank Harper) is supportive of his daughter’s interest in football, but her mum Paula (Juliet Stevenson) is more interested in getting her to wear pretty dresses and go out with boys. Jess has to resort to lying to her parents in order to keep playing in the league, and with Jules’s help, the team makes it all the way to the finals, and the two girls catch the eye of an American scout. Unfortunately, both girls fall for Joe, and a rift starts to form between the two. Also, Jess’s parents find out that she has been lying to them, and Jess is forced to make a choice between being a filial daughter and her passion for football. Then, the team finds out that the American scout is coming to observe the league finals, but Jess cannot make it for the match – barring a small miracle.

Directed by Gurinder Chadha, whose previous films (Bhaji On The Beach, What’s Cooking) have not made it to Singapore before, Bend It Like Beckham is a good mix of drama and comedy. Chadha, together with co-screenwriters Guljit Bindra and Paul Mayeda Berges, has managed to blend the unlikely combination of football and Indian culture, but stays firmly within formula. The plot is never really unpredictable, and the various scenarios will be familiar to anyone who has watched at least one "against all odds" movie. However, Bend It Like Beckham shines in its comedic moments, which are wildly funny at times, whilst never being mean toward its subject matter. We also get a peek into the lifestyle of an Indian family in the UK, and how the two cultures are starkly different from each other. One scene in the film involves an intercutting between Pinky’s wedding and the pivotal soccer match, easily the most visually and aurally appealing scenes in the entire movie.

The cast in Bend It Like Beckham also helps the film rise several notches. Parminder is excellent in her debut appearance as Jess, and she manages to inject some depth into her character despite the limited characterization of the script. Keira Knightly puts in a spunky performance, and it’s surprising to find out that she is actually only seventeen years old. Jonathan Rhys Myers makes good use of his smoky good looks, but his romance between Jess is easily the weakest link in the whole film. The supporting cast is all pretty above par, and several notable faces in the cast include veteran Bollywood actor Anupam Kher, All Saints member Shaznay Lewis, and a very fleeting cameo by the titular David Beckham and Posh Spice. The film also features a strong soundtrack, which manages to mix in traditional Indian music and more modern English offerings to great effect. One can say that Bend It Like Beckham is not an original film, but it is a solidly entertaining one, and offers something for almost every type of audience.

Final Word: Although running for a bit too long at 112 minutes, Bend It Like Beckham doesn’t really outstay its welcome. Do note that the varying British accents may make certain portions of the film slightly harder to understand.