Bend It Like Beckham Review

Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) is eighteen years old, and all she wants to do is play football like her idol David Beckham. But her parents (Anupam Kher and Shaheen Khan) would much rather she concentrated on her studies and learn to cook. Jules (Keira Knightley), a white girl, plays for the local women’s football team, despite her mother (Juliet Stevenson) wishing she was a little more feminine: “There’s a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one without a fella.” One day, Jules spots Jess kicking a ball around the local park and asks her to try out for the team. The team coach is Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), whose own football career was cut short by injury. Jess is accepted for the team, and seems to have a promising career ahead of her. But how can she persuade her parents of this?

Forget the awful title, which will most likely be obscure in ten years’ time. Despite some flaws, Gurinder Chadha’s third feature (after Bhaji on the Beach and the US-made What’s Cooking?) is an engaging, though certainly flawed, crowd-pleaser. Like all films of this type, you can work it’s going to end up: it’s less where it gets to than how it gets there which matters. It sets out to be simple entertainment, and at times it’s simple to the point of seeming artlessness: too much Hollywood-style gloss would probably weigh it down. Being set in a specific place and time (present-day multiracial Hounslow) rather than Anytown helps a lot too.

Parminder Nagra, in her feature film debut, makes for a spirited heroine, and it’s easy to identify with her. Keira Knightley (who appeared in The Phantom Menace and The Hole) is blander as Jules. As for ex-All Saint Shaznay Lewis, who plays team captain Mel, the jury is still out, as she doesn’t have a lot of dialogue. The older cast members give solid performances: Jonathan Rhys Meyers underplays as Joe, whom Jess and Jules both fall for. Juliet Stevenson steals every scene she’s in. Anupam Kher (a Bollywood star making his English-language debut) is very good as Jess’s father. There’s a moving moment when he tells Jess how he wasn’t able to play for an English cricket team because he wore a turban, despite being the best fast bowler in his team back in India. This is based on a true story of Chadha’s late father, and illustrates her and her co-writers’ ability to bring in serious points into an essentially light piece without weighing things down.

Yes it’s predictable, and a little rough round the edges at times. It’s certainly too long: a middle section could have lost about ten or fifteen minutes. But after the success of East is East there’s a market for films like this: a British film about people and places you can recognise, regardless of the audience’s race. How well it will translate overseas is another question entirely, but at home it should do well. As for Mr Beckham himself, he makes a brief, uncredited cameo towards the end.



out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 17:59:13

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