Bend it Like Beckham

For those who do not know (and that is probably most people in America), David Beckham is one of the most popular football (er, soccer) players in England. His stature there is on par with that of Michael Jordan. Heck, he even married Posh Spice. Beckham is the inspiration behind Bend it Like Beckham, a wonderfully fun film that takes a number of standard, familiar plots, rolls them all into one, and does it so deftly that it doesn't matter that this is a predictable movie. There is al wedding and overbearing, odd parents (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Monsoon Wedding), second-generation Asian Indians trying to reconcile their culture with their parents' (East is East, American Chai, heck, even The Guru), and other plots like the underdog sports team, inter-cultural relationships, and a girl trying to make her way in a man's world. It is forgivable, because although everything follows a preordained path, it's actually pretty difficult to make a movie like this original.

It all boils down to Jess Bharma (Parminder Nagra), the younger daughter in a Punjabi family. All Jess wants to do, to the consternation of her parents, is play football. Her parents want her and her sister Pinky (Archi Panjabi, East is East) to be good Indian daughters. Pinky's wedding is approaching, which increases the pressure on Jess. Things change when Jules (Keira Knightley, The Phantom Menace, Deflation) spots Jess playing in the park with some guys. Jules recruits Jess onto the Hounslow Harriers, coached by Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Titus, Ride With the Devil). Jess is finally doing what she loves to do, but she has to lie to her parents. It turns out she's really good too. So the longer the lie continues, the worse the consequences become, and everything will eventually come to a head.

Like most generation gap type movies, much of the humor derives from watching the parents. The nice thing is that director Gurinder Chadha (What's Cooking?, A Nice Arrangement) , who co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Mayeda Berges (What's Cooking?) and Guljit Bindra has a gentle touch that teases Indian culture without mocking it. It is also easily accessible to people who aren't familiar with the culture; it's more about having odd parents than anything else. The parents are odd, but Chadha takes the time to give them personalities. They are more than just stock supporting characters. Jess' father (Anupam Kher, Aashiq, Refugee) and mother (Shaheen Khan, Hollow Road, Captives) truly care for the welfare of their daughter. They want her to grow up like they did, and don't realize that the culture Jess lives in is very different from the one they grew up in. Juliet Stevenson (Nicholas Nickleby, Food of Love) is the same way as Jules' mother. She doesn't think it's proper for a girl to play soccer. There is a great running gag about how she seems to misinterpret every conversation between Jules and Jess, and how she's always walking in at the wrong moment.

Chadha takes the time to fill Bend it Like Beckham with lots of little things. She takes the time to invest a lot of care and thought into the characters and stories, having little running gags (like a funny one involving some shoes Jess borrows) that pay off and somehow manage to stay fresh without becoming annoying. It is this attention to detail that makes Bend it Like Beckham so enjoyable. Yes, there is conflict, but it still manages to be a very warm movie. Although it pushes two hours, it moves by briskly. The football scenes are decent, and the actors cast actually look like they could be football players. And Nagra is a wonderful find. She adroitly conveys both frustration and love towards her parents, and the inner turmoil that Jess is feeling. Nagra has an engaging screen presence, and here's hoping more of her movies make it across the pond.

Mongoose Rates It: Really Good.
1 hour, 52 minutes, Rated PG-13 for language and sexual content.

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