though it is a feel-good sports film, the movie that Bend It Like Beckham
reminds me most of is not Rocky or The Karate Kid, but
instead My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (Although in fairness,
Beckham is a significantly better film than Wedding.) It's an
awkwardly titled (a reference to former Manchester United star David
Beckham) look at a young girl trying to find her life amongst an
old-fashioned (and extremely boisterously loud) ethnic family. She tries to
break out and find a calling that she is passionate about (in this case
playing football), but the girl power ethos of the film doesn't change the
fact that she doesn't feel completely successful until she finds a hunky guy
to love her. It even has its own wedding, though it's a nice plot point
that it's an inconvenience for our heroine. Welcome to the feminist films
of the new millennium.
On the plus side, our two heroines, Jess (Parminder
Nagra) and Jules (Keira Knightley) are very likable. They are able to
convincingly portray their love of the game and their hunger to reach a
professional level. They are easily the best part of this film, and they
make you feel for them, as they have to fight and fool their parents to play
the game they love.
Sadly, the family subplots just weigh this film down.
Both pairs of parents are sort of cartoon stereotypes — Jess' parents are
unyielding Indians who still cling to past
traditions. Jules' parents are even more annoying. They try to
be liberal and identify with their tomboy daughter, but essentially they are
dolts who have no understanding of her and take leaps of logic that beggar
film works much better when it just concentrates on two good friends who
share a love of sports. For a film about two women who want nothing more
than to become professional soccer players, there is a kind of weird subplot
when they suddenly start fighting over the affections of their coach. It's
even more disconcerting when he returns the affections of one of the
girls... after all they are 17-year-old high school students and he
an adult who is supposed to be their teacher.
of this, of course, leads to the big match, in
which the girls get a chance to win the championship in front of the
professional scout who can get them full scholarships to play in the United
States. If you don't know how it ends already then you've never seen one of
these films. It may not be a surprise, but it is a fun and rousing finale.
Bend It Like Beckham is a likable enough, if slight, variation of the
classic sports film structure. I'm not sure if it deserves to be the
biggest foreign film of the year, as it seems to be becoming. (Man on
the Train and Swimming Pool are infinitely better.) It
works just fine as a popcorn chick flick, though. (4/03)
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Posted: July 23, 2003.