Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Directed by Gurinder Chadha

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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Jess (Parminder Nagra), a young woman from a Sikh family in England, dreams of playing football, but her parents want her to attend college, find a nice Sikh man to marry, and learn how to cook Panjabi food. When Jess, in defiance of their wishes, decides to join a girls' football team, she learns that she may have a chance to play professionally someday, develops a friendship with Jules (Keira Knightley), one of the other girls, and becomes infatuated with her male coach, Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyer), all the while hiding these activities from her family.

Gurinder Chadha's Bend It Like Beckham is a predictable, frequently melodramatic film, but it is also both affecting and charming. The viewer will probably be able to foresee most of the incidents introduced into the plot and will, most likely, be able to guess their outcome as soon as they are seen, but, be that as it may, he is still likely to be entertained and touched by them.


Jess's conflicts with her parents, her eagerness to live her own life, her friendship with Jules, and her budding romance with Joe, while predictably handled, are all engaging enough so that the complications that develop when her family learns of her involvement with the girls' football team and when Jules learns of her relationship with Joe, for whom Jules also has romantic feelings, are able to involve the moviegoer in the protagonist's world. Admittedly, there are times when the viewer may wish that Chadha had shown a little more creativity and been a little less maudlin, but, despite such feelings, he is still likely to be affected by the events he is watching.

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In fact, not only does the director allow the moviegoer to sympathize with Jess and feel both her excitement for football and the sorrows she suffers because of the restrictions placed upon her by her family, she also reveals to him the limitations of the society in which her protagonist lives. Chadha, for example, demonstrates considerable skill in bringing out many of the cultural and racial prejudices current in the Sikh community in Britain. Even the younger generations are not spared. While they are not presented as being as bound by tradition as are their elders, the director does show the casual racism of many young Sikhs. What is more, she also makes the viewer aware of some of the discriminatory behaviors and prejudices found among Whites which members of the Sikh community must themselves endure, from name calling to more subtle preconceptions about Asian cultures. The effects of all these attitudes on Jess are nicely handled by Chadha throughout the film.


Despite the presence of such themes, the movie is not always serious. Although Bend It Like Beckham is generally dramatic in tone, it is also peppered with a fair number of humorous moments, some of which are very funny. Many of the jokes which enliven the film play on presumptions about persons of Indian descent current both in Indian and non-Indian communities, but, as these are always presented in a light-hearted and affectionate way, they are very unlikely to offend anyone. A number of the characters who are so used to provide the movie with its comedic moments are, it must be conceded, little more than stereotypes, but, despite their limitations, most are genuinely entertaining and give a vibrant life to the movie.

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As enjoyable as are such performances by the film's supporting players, many of whom show considerable comedic skill, those of the leads are even better. Both Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley bring a wonderful, sprightly vivacity to their parts, and both their characters are, consequently, immensely likeable. Jonathan Rhys-Meyer is likewise a real pleasure to watch. His Joe emerges as a truly decent and sympathetic individual. All three of the protagonists, in fact, acquit themselves well and infuse the movie with a wonderfully exuberant energy.


While it is little more than a light diversion, Bend It Like Beckham is, nevertheless, a fun and heart-warming film

Review by Keith Allen

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