Bend It Like Beckham
2003, PG-13, 112 min. Directed by Gurinder Chadha. Starring Parminder K. Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Anupam Kher, Archie Punjabi, Shaheen Khan, Ameet Chana.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 4, 2003
Soccer's a tough sell in the States. Unlike the rest of the world (where "football" is a life staple on a par with oxygen and gravity), the most natural sport known to man has, somehow, failed to ignite in America. Call it our national obsession with tackling each other, both literally and metaphorically, or call it the curse of the short-attention-span Yankees. Whatever it is, most of us don't seem to have the requisite patience that soccer calls for. It's a game of extraordinary finesse, skill, and nuance. When it least appears anything is going on atop the pitch is when the most astounding feats occur. Americans, weaned for the past two decades on MTV edits and the dodgy, smash-'n'-grab hooliganism-as-sport of the NFL (not to mention the WWF, which, despite the fact that Werner Herzog professes a love for the dramatics of professional wrestling, still seems to me very much like what I was doing in the sandbox at age 8, only with G.I. Joes and bricks), have never cottoned to the sport, and let's face it – Bend It Like Beckham, a culture-clash British import with a soccer backstory, isn't going to set anybody's goalposts alight. A tremendous smash in the UK, Chadha's film arrives with roughly as much hype as the Spice Girls once generated (fitting, since Manchester United's phenomenal forward David Beckham, justly famed for his ability to "bend" the ball around pretty much whomever gets in his way, is married to Posh Spice). And while it's already been compared to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, its sleek, easygoing, utterly un-remarkable charm has precious little to recommend it outside of the standard coming-of-age or date-night movie. Don't get me wrong: As a feel-good slice of cinematic meringue, you could do a lot worse, but where My Big Fat Greek Wedding had an emotionally ripe, heartfelt core (courtesy of Nia Vardalos' script, adapted from her stage play), Bend It Like Beckham feels cobbled together, two parts better tomorrows, one part immigrant melting-pot malaise. Parminder Nagra, as the soccer-mad teenager Jess, sandwiched between a pair of traditional Sikh parents and a sister desperate for marriage to a nice Indian boy, is fantastic. She's tiny, almost elfin, but when she takes to the field with the ball between her feet she positively explodes, all gleaming grins and staccato handling. The same goes for Keira Knightley, who, as her best mate Jules, does for skinny blond tomboys what Edie Sedgwick did for junkie fashionistas. Caught between her family and her love of the perfect sport, Jess has nowhere to go, but Nagra, ingratiating to a fault, provides both her and pretty much everyone else in the film plenty of Brit pop-lite moments to get lost in. Assimilation, youth, passion, and romance are the strikers here, albeit in simplistic, frothy bite-sized dollops that guarantee to offend absolutely no one (possibly Arsenal fans, but really, even that's doubtful). There's nothing terribly bad about Bend It Like Beckham – in fact it's a fine Friday-night-out film - it's just that it strikes me as being an awful little piffle cloaked in the garb of something so much more.