Bend It Like Beckham

Bend It Like Beckham

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

One of the reasons The Full Monty was more successful than Brassed Off, despite having identical themes, is that it understood the rules of the feelgood movie. Mark Herman was too political.

Gurinder Chadha's last film was What's Cooking?, made in LA with an ensemble cast, totally forgotten now and yet an infinitely superior work to her latest, which has bathed in the pool of popularity. Every button on the panels marked UP and LIFTING is pushed.

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If racism is based on ignorance, one way of combating it is to have the next generation of Asian youth behave like white kids down the street. Of course, they have to show respect to their parents and all that, which is played for laughs, tradition being seen as a hindrance to self-expression, both hypocritical and absurd.

Jess's story is different. She is Sikh, teenage and a fanatical footie fan. Her room is plastered with pictures of David Beckham and she wears his shirt when playing in the park. The Indian boys appreciate her skills, but never forget that she's a girl. When Jules (Keira Knightley), a regular with the Hounslow Harriers, an all-female team with an Irish coach (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) and high aspirations to win every trophy in sight, spots her kicking the ball around, she suggests that she come and train with them.

Close your eyes. In the land of wistful fruitfulness - otherwise known as cliche - what do you think happens next? Yes, her parents forbid it. Yes, Jules and Jess (Parminder K Nagra) become inseparable. Yes, they both fancy the coach. Yes, Jules's stupid mum (Juliet Stevenson) thinks they are lesbians. Yes, Jess lies to get to play. Yes, yes and yes!

Football is Jess's means of independence. She is denied it by the ritual of her faith, or rather strict parental control, based on traditions that belong to another place and time. It is a universal theme, dogma versus individuality. Children of immigrants accept the popular culture around them, in this case soccer. Jess is a girl, of course, and that is another barrier that Jules has to break through, too.

East Is East covered the same religious and generational territory in greater depth and with more humour. Bend It Like Beckham understands the rules of feelgood and will do well for that reason. Chadha's style is far broader than it was in What's Cooking? The intercutting between Jess's sister's wedding and the all important match is crude by comparison with the interlinkage between the four families in the LA movie. Also, the ending is a complete cop-out.

It is impossible not to like the film, not least because of Nagra's charming performance. Knightley is less convincing as a North London tomboy. She's more like a refugee from a private school in Berkshire. Rhys-Meyers, so memorable as the glam rocker in Velvet Goldmine, has cut his hair, discarded the camp accoutrements and gone into training. He has the script to contend with, but otherwise is an asset.

The message from the ethnic heartland is loud and clear - pay lip service to the old ways and do your own thing. You can't ask for better, right?

Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2002
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Bend It Like Beckham packshot
An 18-year-old football-mad girl defies her parents' wishes to conform by pursuing her dream to play footie like David Beckham.
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Director: Gurinder Chadha

Writer: Paul Mayeda Berges, Guljit Bindra, Gurinder Chadha

Starring: Parminder K Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anupam Kher, Juliet Stevenson, Frank Harper, Kulvinder Ghir, Archie Panjabi, Shaznay Lewis

Year: 2002

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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