Jess (Parminder Nagra) is desperate to be a footballer, but her parents have other ideas. When her friend Jules (Keira Knightley) convinces her to join a local team, she has to keep it a secret – especially when the final falls on the day of her sister’s wedding…
Like runaway hit East Is East, Bend It Like Beckham, Gurinder Chadha’s football-themed comedy, is set in Britain’s Indian community. Both are about the tight (some say protective) restrictions imposed by family and tradition, and how the younger generation address this while trying to fit into the modern, multi-cultural world.
Regardless of ethnic background, all teenagers have run-ins with their parents. And, like Jess here, if they can’t talk to their elders, they’ll discuss their dreams with the posters on their bedroom walls. Perhaps Chadha shows more confidence handling the domestic comedy-drama and Bollywood-lite music, dance and colour of the wedding scene than the football footage, but she certainly marshals together the many elements of her film and sustains an infectiously buoyant mood.
As Bhaji On The Beach (1993) and What’s Cooking? (2000) had already revealed, she has an amazing touch with people. She’s on the side of kids and their parents, never turning the older generation into out-of-touch, stereotypical tyrants. Nagra is tremendously appealing in the lead role, while Knightley and Jonathan Rhys Meyers add to the sex appeal. As Jules’ mum, Juliet Stevenson seems to have wandered straight in from the set of a Mike Leigh movie, confidently telling her tomboy daughter (whom she fears is a lesbian), “There’s a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one without a fella.”
A feel-good movie with real issues relevant to everyone in the audience, Bend It Like Beckham certainly has wider appeal than the aforementioned East Is East. The in-jokes can be lapped up by Asian viewers, but won’t fly over the heads of everyone else.
Like an extra-time free kick sent over the defensive wall into the back of the net, this word-of-mouth crowd pleaser came out of nowhere. Delightfully upbeat, it will leave you with a contented smile on your face.