The only thing bad about this movie is its title. Once you get beyond that
you find a feel-good, sports, coming-of-age, girl-empowerment drama immersed
in a cultural adaptation story that works for all cultures and genders.
Young Jessie Bhamra (Parminder K. Nagra), the junior daughter of an orthodox
Sikh family and a tom-boy who can best most males on a soccer field, idolizes
Manchester United's David Beckham, erecting a virtual altar to him in her
bedroom. Sleeping under the soccer star's poster, she spills her days'
anxieties to the icon as to a diary. Clearly, while not intentionally
rebelling against the strict old-world precepts of her parents and the
restraints their cultural desires impose on her, she is tugged by a wider
reality and a more modern life-style than even her older sister, who is
sticking to tradition by marrying a perfect-candidate Indian boy.
Her destiny to clash with her parents' visions for her destiny is started
when Juliette "Jules" Paxton (Keira Knightley), a member of a girls' soccer
team, spies Jessie's (short for Jessminder) dominance of her soccer game with
a set of boys and offers to sponsor Jessie as a member of her team.
Trepidations about whether coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) will accept her
are soon put to rest by her clever and controlled play. This is a girl with
serious talent on the field, enough, perhaps, to help this team win a few.
The recognition of her potential contribution to the team and the joy of
being on one increases her devotion to the sport and her desire to follow her
dream, even to the extent of deceiving her parents who encourage her only to
find a nice Indian boy with whom to have children in a nice Indian household.
Though her father (Anupam Kher) was once an athlete, the disappointments in
his career makes him determined to head off his daughters ambitions.
But life's development don't always go according to plan and the pull of the
sport is going to dominate ill-conceived propriety and unwillingness to adapt
to the surrounding influences and a younger generations's freedom of choice.
The clash is not horrific nor momentous but kept within the confines of inter-
family differences that everyone, in all cultures, can recognize and relate
to, setting up prospects for good commercial results. Combined with games
that are choreographed and contrived to develop the maximum dramatic
effectiveness, you have a movie that can be considered this year's "My Big
Fat Greek Wedding." Call it "My Big Fat Soccer Career", though it's not
likely to outperform the former's $224 Million+ at the boxoffice. Perhaps
because "Greek Wedding" was there first and, maybe, because of that title.
It should have been called, "Playing in the Park With Boys." That would have
lit up a few cash registers.
Technical credits are all they need to be with casting worthy of kudos. You
don't have, here, actors who you need to train for soccer. Instead,
writer-director Gurinder Chadha cast his film with athletes who act. All are
as fit and physical as the sport and our need for convincing requires. It
adds a tremendous dimension of accuracy to the light entertainment that "Bend
It Like Beckham" provides while we fully root for Jessie to win the day while
winning our hearts. That she does.
~~ Jules Brenner