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STO Soccer Film Review: Bend It Like Beckham

Since I savaged Ladybugs late last week, I thought today I would write about a girls’ soccer movie that got it right, Bend It Like Beckham. Unlike Ladybugs, BILB didn’t disparage the women’s game or feature any cross-dressing (unless you count the fact that Keira Knightley looks like a boy).

Writer-Director Gurinder Chadha really did exceptional with this film, which like her other films focuses on the cultural problems facing Indians in the UK. In other films she has used marriage as an obvious metaphor for the mixing of Indian ethnicity with British culture, but in this film she uses soccer to achieve the same goal (pun intended).

As for a brief synopsis:

Jess (Parminder Nagra) is a Sikh living in London who lives with her parents and her sister, who is soon to be wed. Her parents push her towards academic excellence and view her studies as a way for her to escape the working class existence they have become enveloped in. However, Jess harbors the secret desire to become a professional football player like her idol, Mr. Beckham.

Now, her parents are not fond of the sport because they believe it will make her an unappealing bride. So, she clandestinely plays with her gay friend Tony and his mates at a local park. One day while playing in the park, Jules (Keira Knightley) spies Jess from afar and the two strike up a fast friendship. Jules, like Jess, wants to play soccer professionally. Jules invites Jess to join their club team, which is coached by the ruggedly handsome Joe (Jonathan Rhys Myers), a former male player whose career ended due to injury. Jess joins the squad and quickly emerges as its most dangerous player.

Of course, a love triangle forms between the three main characters. Joe prefers Jess though (like I said, Knightley looks like a teenage dude) and sparks between them begin to fly. Of course, their budding love affair icily chills Jess’s friendship with Jules. Later, Jess’s parents discover she has been (gasp) playing soccer, and they forbid her from playing in the league championship and from seeing Joe.

Jess fantasizes about playing in the big match anyways, but the club championship is scheduled for the same day as Jess’s sister’s wedding, so she is under close scrutiny throughout the day. Her father decides that if playing in the game would make her truly happy she should play and helps her to exit the wedding so she can make it to the pitch in time for the second half. Jules forgives her for stealing Joe and the two put on a clinic and win the championship on Jess’s last second penalty (which she bends like Beckham, hence the title). After the game, the girls get scholarship offers from a US university and are thrilled.

Jess quickly realizes her parents won’t allow her to go, so her gay friend Tony proposes to her on the condition that if they marry she can go to school in the US. Jess cannot let Tony make such a sacrifice though and she tells her parents the truth. After they come around, they finally agree to let her go. At the airport before she leaves for the US, Joe appears and lays a passionate liplock on Jess. She’s so deep in the kiss that she misses her idol, Beckham (or at least a Beckham look alike), walking through Heathrow Airport with Posh at his side. Happy Ending. Yay.

Bend It Like Beckham is good because it delves into complicated themes with light-hearted humor and a razor sharp wit. Sure, the actual soccer scenes are pretty poorly shot (lots of feet basically), but this movie isn’t really about soccer. It’s not about bending free kicks, it’s about bending traditions and expectations.

The performances are fantastic all the way around. Knightley is good, Rhys Myers does his thing and Nagra (who is also on ER) is a revelation. She is the true star of this film and she earned the rave reviews she received. Though far from perfect, Bend It Like Beckham is a fine soccer film and if you have not seen it yet, I recommend you check it out.