Slowly making its way into mainstream release, Gurinder Chadha’s “Bend It Like Beckham” is one of those rare movies that you can both bring your kids to want to bring your kids to. Though formulaic, it’s got the right ingredients that make it a family movie as well as one you can see for yourself or with a mature audience for the sake that it’s simply a great film.
Taking place in London, the story is about a girl named Jesminder Bjamra (Parminder K. Nagra) who comes from a traditional Indian family; the same traditional where Toula from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” came from. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bjamra (Anupam Kher and Shaheen Khan) are Sikhs and have decorated their middle-class home in such a way that Jesminder will never forget where she comes from.
Jesminder, who goes by Jess, plays soccer in the park with a group of all-boys. She adores the sport and while the rest of the family covers their walls with portraits of their religious leaders, Jess covers her main wall with a large picture of her inspiration, British soccer player David Beckham.
The main conflict is one we’ve seen before. The family is strict on tradition and the parents don’t want their coming-of-age daughter to stray from the culture. Mr. Bjamra doesn’t want his daughter playing soccer because it’s not the typical role for young Indian girls to fill. But we later learn his reasons go much deeper. Mrs. Bjamra doesn’t approve because the sport does not make the family look good, as participating in the game would mean "displaying her bare legs to complete strangers."
It will only be a matter of time before Jess is spotted by the stunningly beautiful Juliette Paxton (Keira Knightley), a player for the women’s team who wants to recruit her to the Hounslow Harriers. Juliette introduces Jess to Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), a young and good looking Irishman who happens to be the coach of the team. The three J-characters I’ve just mentioned are all complicated characters with their own story and conflicts.
Each story is explored in detail, and that is basically what the movie is about. There is very little soccer, or shall I say football in this movie. Because Jess’s family disapproves of her joining the league, she must do so secretly, all while getting ready for her big sister’s (Archie Panjabi) wedding and taking part in family tradition which means learning how to cook proper Indian meals.
But Jess isn’t the only one with problems at home. Juliette finds herself coming from an upper-class family and a mother (Juliet Stevenson) who knows nothing about the sport that her daughter is obsessed with. Her father (Frank Harper) is a bit more understanding and enjoys taking part in practice drills with his daughter. It’s easy to see why he’s happy with his daughter, a beautiful girl who isn’t a boy-chaser the way her mother wants her to be, and he gladly admits that. The mother and daughter go shopping together, although Juliette hates it, because her mother is always trying to make her more noticeable, picking out bras to give her more bust while Juliette is only interested in what sportsbra will work well as a part of her soccer uniform.
Joe suffers by respecting the “no dating players” rule, at least for most of the movie. He takes his job seriously though he could easily take advantage of his position. Many conversations reveal that he hasn’t told his father that he teaches a girl’s team because he always expected him to go higher, even though an injury has permanently placed him on the sidelines.
The cast is a good assembly of likable characters, but if the Internet Movie Database is correct, Parminder K. Nagra is ten years older than her co-star Keira Knightley, who is also in the recently released “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” They have a good chemistry together and the acting is first-rate.
There is also bits and pieces of comedy spread out, and the jokes appear eased in compared to "American Wedding" where the laughs feel forced. This movie allows you to laugh not because it makes fun of diversity, but because diversity makes fun of what society views as normal.
As I’ve mentioned, there is actually very little soccer in the movie. But when it does cut to the game, the team plays enthusiastically and perform stunts when they score goals. My one criticism of the movie is that the team seams to gel too quickly. Jess’s family problems often keep her out of practice yet she always fits right in whenever she can escape to join her team on the field. It doesn’t seem like there was enough practice put in, although we do seem them go through intensive drill training. This is a rare movie about a sports team where the team doesn’t have to first overcome a losing streak before they can make it to the finals.
The girls are excited to hear that an American talent scout will be at one of their final games. Of course that date happens to be the same day as Jess’s sister’s wedding. Both are important to her, but which will she chose? There is a touching scene where Jess and Juliette are watching a clip from the American woman’s soccer team on television. They gaze in awe as crowds of thousands cheer on Mia Hamm and the women’s team. Before then these girls never thought women’s soccer could be so popular. For once Jess and Juliette see that their dream is a possible reality that is in reach. The only problem for Jess is that she might not even be able to make it to the game.
“Bend It Like Beckham” is rated PG-13 for language and sexual content, but that shouldn’t make you question your decision to take the kids. PG-13 movies like “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and “Dumb and Dumberer” should make you do that. “Bend It Like Beckham” is a warm-hearted movie that people all ages will enjoy, and one older ages will reflect on and absorb the values from. It’s not too often that I can say that about a mainstream Hollywood movie, and since “Bend It Like Beckham” is a British film, I can’t say that in this case either.