Retro Review: Bend It Like Beckham

Bend It Like Beckham (2002) weaves together comedy, drama, sports, romance and coming of age genres endearingly and with originality.

Jess obsesses over soccer superstar David Beckham. She has the talent. Her intricate footwork and ball-handling skills have the boys floundering at the local park. That’s where she spends nearly every spare minute.

Yet dare Jess dream of becoming a professional footballer?

 

She never knew girls even had teams until Jules, on a jog through the park, happens to take notice. Jess’ spunk and perserverance impress Jules as much as her skills. Jules asks Jess to try out for a spot on her team – the (fictional) Houndslow Harriers.

Jess is soon the Harriers’ rising star. The girls become good friends. Both dream of fame and fortune playing professionally in America.

It all soon comes crashing down.

Jules feels betrayed and jealous when she catches Jess and Coach Joe about to kiss. Never mind if it were just a drunken moment of weakness.

The neighbors gossip. Jess’ “unseemly” behavior even threatens to derail her older sister’s much-anticipated wedding. And her sister is furious.

Her parents demand Jess act more ladylike, more traditional. They insist she give up football forever.

She pretends to comply, but sneaks out to play anyway. She has just one chance to prove herself to the American scouts. And everyone but her coach stands in her way.

When her sister finally spits out the truth, how can Jess possibly keep her football dreams alive? Especially when racism stopped her dad from fulfilling his.

A soccer career is hard enough if you’re a girl. It’s near impossible if you’re Indian too.

Parminda Nagra as Jasminder “Jess” Bhamra, Keira Knightly as Juliette “Jules” Paxton and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Joe do a fine acting job. The supporting cast is occasionally a bit wooden and, though entertaining, a scene or two might just as easily have been left on the cutting room floor. But those are nitpicks.

In the wake of huge commercial success in Britain in 2002, Bend It Like Beckham was released theatrically in the US a year later. It met critical acclaim and has won many awards and honors, including the 2003 Golden Globe award for best comedy. It inspired a highly successful musical play.

The film masterfully juggles serious themes – prejudice, gender roles and identity, family obligation and cultural tradition versus individual choice. Its brilliance lies in its light-handed, always humorous touch. It’s perfect for adults, teens and thoughtful children.

Images from Pixabay.


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