Bend it Like Beckham (2003)
Jess: Anyone can cook aloo gobi, but who can bend a ball like Beckham?
What better time to post this review then during the World Cup? Though as I’ve stated before footie/soccer isn’t a sport that gets me excited, I do love this movie.
Jess – Jessminder to her mother – (Parminder Nagra) is footie mad and talented too. Her favorite player is David Beckham and in her dreams she scores goals with him then has her play analyzed by Gary Lineker, John Barnes and Alan Hansen. In reality, she plays with some male friends in the park when her parents (Anupam Kher and Shaheen Khan), orthodox Sikhs, don’t know what she’s up to. It’s here that Jules (Kiera Knightley) sees her, recognizes Jess’s talent and tells her team coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) about her.
When Jules approaches Jess about joining the team, Jess is thrilled. Here’s a chance for her to play on a real team, with a real pitch, organized games and everything. But her parents would never approve so Jess still sneaks out, sometimes with the help of her older and soon to be married sister Pinky (Archie Panjabi). When a US scout is due to watch one of their games, Jess is gutted that it’s the same day as Pinky’s wedding. Can she find a way to attend both, keep her parents happy and maybe start a romance?
I don’t know how many times I’ve watched this film and I still love it. Director Gurinder Chada (who also directed Bride and Prejudice) lucked out to get Knightley and Rhys Meyers before they rocketed to fame and probably would have cost too much. As well, she got Beckham and Mia Hamm to agree to allow their names and likenesses to be used and (if you check the extras section) Beckham and Posh Spice even join in the singing bits which are hilariously shown in the closing credits. Hot, hot, hot! I’m an extras fan and love the commentary track too. Chadha is so much fun to listen to and even includes a bit of her cooking aloo gobi with her mother and auntie looking on and offering advice/criticism!
The film is filled with energy and movement. The music is brilliant and an obvious effort has been made to make the football scenes look realistic. From what Chadha said, the coach of the England women’s team worked with the actors and even has a bit part as a referee in the last game. The message is pro women in sport and doing what you love without turning into a preachy session. I also like that Pinky isn’t denigrated in contrast for being traditional and just wanting to get married. Unlike “Dil Bole Hadippa!” which features a young woman who wants to play cricket in India, the only preaching speech here is a short one at the end by Jess’s father when he decides to defy his wife and let Jess follow her dream. And I loved his scenes of pride in his daughter’s skill. Two daughters happy on the same day, what father could want more.
Two characters I didn’t mention in the blurb but who are fantastic are Juliet Stevenson (Paula) and Frank Harper (Alan) as Jules’s parents. Juliet steals every scene she’s in from the bra shopping one to her enormous Ascot hat to the confrontation with the girl she thinks is the lesbian whom her daughter is in love with. “Get your lesbian feet out of my shoes!”
And then there’s the condiments scene where her husband tries to explain the offside rule to her. “Don’t tell me. The offside rule is when the French mustard has to be between the teriyaki sauce and the sea salt.”
There is a bit of a romance, if you wait for it, but the other relationships in the movie are just as good. Jules and Jess (what would this be called, a sismance, womance, femance, girmance?) become best friends, Jess and Pinky – though radically different in what they want out of life – back each other up (most of the time), Jess’s parents truly want the best for her and Jess’s friend Tony is willing to make a major sacrifice for her to have a chance to go to America. And even Jules’s mother eventually decides to try and learn the sport so she will understand her daughter better.
I like the glimpse of Indian English life, the celebration of women in sport, how the film spoofs the belief that sport makes women masculine, the positive but open ending, and how I always finish the film with a smile on my face. Though some plot points feel labored and slightly forced (how Jules’s parents think she’s lesbian and the rivalry between Jess and Jules for Joe) other things like Pinky’s wedding – intercut with the football game – and the momentary vision Jess has before her last kick more than make up for them. There’s something here for just about everyone including an aloo gobi lesson. I’m off to buy the spices now.