Monday, 23 March 2009

Movie Review - Bend It Like Beckham

Jess – full name Jasminder Bhamra - (Parminder Nagra) dreams of playing professional football and is crazy about David Beckham. (No accounting for taste I guess). But… “she can’t even cook a japatti!” Her family, particularly her parents, are very traditional and not at all enamoured of the idea of their daughter playing football. In fact, the life they have planned for her is more along the lines of getting married and having lots of children, and of course cooking lots of Indian food…

Despite her dreams Jess doesn’t actually think she’s talented enough to play professionally (not that there’s a great deal of opportunity for women to do this in England), nor does she think she would be able to escape the clutches of her family in order to do so. However, a chance encounter with a girl called Jules (Keira Knightley) leads to her becoming (secretly) part of a local girls football team. However, despite Jules’ help, this is a hard secret to keep, and the Team Coach (Joe – played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) seems to be much too hard on her at first. Things get even more complicated when Jess starts to fall for Joe (he’s much nicer to her by this stage!) – something that Jules is not exactly happy about, as she saw him first…

Enough of the plot, you’ll have to find out the rest for yourself. (Or from other reviewers who like to tell you so much of the plot that it’s barely worth actually watching the film for yourself!)

Despite the footballing theme, this film is really about the contrasting cultures – English and Indian – women wanting to do something that isn’t “normal” for women – about someone following their dream, about love, about the expectations people have on you… and in the end, I think it is mainly about a combination of different cultures being better than either culture on its own. The typical culture clash ideas are played out her but in ways fresh enough for you to feel that it’s never quite been done like this before. It’s often funny, often touching, and you really do care about Jess – but you also care about her family, and can sympathise with their views and ideals, if not always their somewhat intolerant attitude.

Gurinder Chadha wrote and directed the film, and has a deep knowledge and respect of the Indian culture, but is also able to point out the inconsistencies and absurdness of certain things, and laugh at them. He does the same thing with English culture. The end result is a social commentary on both cultures that is very funny without being offensive.

The largely unknown cast do a magnificent job, with Nagra’s and Rhys-Meyers’ performances standing out. (Since she’s blond and pretty, Keira Knightly has and will be more popular and successful, of course… this comment from my review originally posted in November 2003 has proved pretty accurate!!).) Another point of interest for me was that I’m absolutely convinced that the Bhamra’s house was filmed in Firs Drive – a street not 10 minutes away from where I used to live! I’ll have to check that out…

The storyline is strong and overall the performances excellent, though there are one or two scenes that seem to drag on a bit – in fact the film would be 5-star material if it were about 20 minutes shorter (or with a better 20 minutes in place of the boring bits!) The football scenes are pretty well filmed, looking fairly convincing.

The one thing that did really annoy me was that Joe was seen to be in the wrong to accept a job for the men’s 2nd team (he later retracted and stayed with the girls), while it’s fine for the two girls to end up jetting off to America to play football professionally over there. Equality? Nope, that’s vanished somewhere and been taken over by feminism (uncontroversial comment no. 152 – see other reviews for previous uncontroversial comments, though they’re not numbered…).

Thankfully there’s not too much David Beckham in this movie, though still too much for my liking. (I think he is a talented footballer and seems to be a committed family man, which can only be a good thing, but I don’t want to actually have to look at him… apart from perhaps in an England shirt).

All in all, this is a very good movie but not quite excellent. It’s definitely one I wouldn’t mind seeing again. It’s funny, sassy, sensitive, and is a very feel-good movie. The only thing that prevents it from getting an excellent rating is the fact that there are too many scenes that go on long after their natural life course has ended. But I would certainly recommended it overall.

See also: Movie Review - My Big Fat Greek Wedding (another culture-clash comedy)

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