Bend It Like Beckham

2002, Movie, PG-13, 112 mins


Lightweight, thoroughly charming fluff about the gulf between immigrant parents and their assimilated children and the family ties that bridge the divide. London tomboy Jasminder "Jess" Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) will be the death of her tradition-minded Sikh parents (Anupam Kher, Shaheen Khan), who emigrated from India to England so their children could have better lives. Jess's older sister, sharp-tongued stewardess Pinky (Archie Panjabi), is engaged to a successful Indian boy from a good family. Jess is smart and studious; she could get into a good college and make a fine marriage of her own. But she lives for soccer; her mother's efforts to teach her to cook proper chapatis send her scurrying to her room to watch "nasty skinhead boys" — her favorite, Manchester United's David Beckham, gives the film its title — or to the park to play pick-up games. Mrs. Bhamra frets about her wayward daughter's future and, frankly, Jess isn't sure where she's going either. She doesn't want to be like Pinky's shallow, sex-obsessed friends, but professional soccer is the ultimate boys' club. Or so she thinks until Jules Paxton (Keira Knightley) introduces her to the Hounslow Harriers, an amateur girls' team with all the trappings — uniforms, a practice field, a roster of games and a real coach (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Jules hopes to win an athletic scholarship to a U.S. college, where women's sports are taken seriously, and while her tarty mum (Juliet Stevenson) never stops trying to get sporty Jules into frillies, her dad (Frank Harper) is thoroughly supportive. Jules gets Jess onto the team, but as Pinky's wedding preparations become ever more elaborate, Jess's parents lay down the law. The previously obedient Jess begins sneaking off to soccer matches behind her parents' backs and clouds of recrimination and heartbreak begin to gather, but this being a fundamentally sunny film, they're soon scattered by gentle breezes of family warmth. Screenwriters Guljit Bindra, Paul Mayeda Berges and Gurinder Chadha, who also directed, juggle a large cast of characters with enviable skill, and the uniformly fine performances carry the day. Panjabi's snippiness and Stevenson's blowsy dithering are perfect counterpoints to the fresh-faced enthusiasm of stars Nagra and Knightley, and while the delicate Rhys Meyers may be the least likely soccer coach ever, he's a flawlessly dreamy object of desire for two slightly sheltered teenage girls. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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