Bend it like Beckham Review
Whilst working hard for her A-levels, Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) spends most of her free time dreaming of being Beckham or playing football in the park with her friends. Jules (Keira Knightley) on the other hand plays in the local female squad to her mother's despair but her father's joy and notices great talent in Jess'; so much so that she asks her to try out for their team. Despite never having played a real game, Jess decides to give it a go and manages to impress the team's Irish trainer, Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who makes her part of his starting team. But Jess is fully aware that her parents will feel her new extra-curricular activity is not becoming of a young Sikh woman. Should she tell them the truth and take the risk of losing it or keep it a secret and wait and see?
Although quite markedly different from Chadha's controversial Bhaji on the Beach, Bend it like Beckham manages to mix feelgood vibes with a certain dose of realism which it's phenomenal boxoffice success may have obscured. In the hands of a less talented director, there could have been some easy shots at certain characters but as most of them are at least inspired by Chadha's own family there is a balance and evenness of treatment that keeps the film on an even keel throughout. The casting though is a bit of a mixed bag - there are some excellent performances (especially from Nagra and her "dad", Bollywood veteran Anupam Kher) but some are slightly two-dimensional (most notably Keira Knightley who seems wooden in comparison to Nagra). The cinematography and the editing works effectively to make the film as dynamic as possible without being too flashy. Thankfully the script is not too sickly sweet either (hopefully there won't be a Hollywood remake!) but some aspects of it are arguably over-optimistic... Without taking the Ken Loach route, Chadha does at least manage in her easy-going manner to look at the more negative aspects of being Asian in Britain; though the film is far from perfect, it is hard to dislike a film that mixes honesty and joie de vivre with such vigour and most audiences will find something to take home from it.
The image:The transfer doesn't suffer from blemishes or other print damage which one would expect given the age of the film. The print used is pristine and the colours come out very nicely. There are some scenes where anti-aliasing appear slightly, but bar that there's nothing to be flawed here - artifacting is minimal and there's little else to spoil the viewing experience. The original aspect ratio of 1.75:1 is also respected and is anamorphically enhanced making the image fit perfectly into a widescreen TV.
The sound:We get a good 5.1 mix, which is usually only used to full effect in some of the sequences as most of the film is dialogue based. Still the surround effects are effective and don't really distract the viewer from the screen; the dialogue on the other hand is quite clear with the soundtrack mixed at a decent level to avoid covering the voices. A good soundtrack but don't expect it to give your system a workout!
The menus:These are animated with a football flying about in Jess' back garden. They also feature some short transitions when accessing other areas. A well designed but simple set of menus that fit in well with the film's spirit.
The extras:We get a fair amount of extras: first of we get a commentary with Chadha and one of her co-writers, Paul Mayeda Berges. Although Chadha takes over for most of the time, Berges gives some interesting insights too (he seems to have been highly involved in the entire process). The commentary seldom stops or delves into technical detail - this is fine as there are plenty of interesting anecdotes (such as the way they wrote a scar on Nagra's thigh into the script or Chadha's use of her extended family as extras). She's also refreshingly honest about the film - classifying some scenes as cheesy or self-indulgent - and is able to avoid the easy trap of constant backslapping which make most commentaries unbearable.
We also get 8 deleted scenes and two extended takes that can be played individually or all together. Most of the scenes are quite slow and were probably deleted for timing whilst the two long takes are scenes that were edited down to a few seconds in the movie so are not really deleted scenes as such but their inclusion is welcome... They have all been transferred anamorphically and although not being to the same image standard as the film they look fine albeit slightly lacking in sharpness. This all clocks in at 15 minutes although there was lots more material available as Chadha's points out that the total running time could have been 2 hours and 46 minutes!
We also get a cooking featurette (15 mins) with Chadha showing us how to cook Aloo Gobi - her mother and her auntie are also in the back of the kitchen to keep an eye on the proceedings and help out when needed. Filmed on DV and anamorphically transferred this is quite a funny and entertaining addition - they even go so far as to reproduce the recipe in full over 6 pages in case you want to emulate her cooking!
A 15 minutes behind-the-scenes featurette with cast and director interviews and footage from the premiere is also included - it seems to have been made some time after the film became a hit probably as an after thought from the production company eager to capitalise on its' surprise hit status. The image quality is good and we get an anamorphic transfer too...
Finally they've included two trailers clocking in at 3 minutes and a music video of the theme tune (3 mins long) followed by 3 minutes of recording a couple of Beckham impersonators singing for the video - these are of minimal interest but are worth watching once.
Conclusions:A very good release of the best crowd-pleaser of last year. The transfer is very good indeed and the extras like the film has something of interest for most family members - you can't really go wrong buying this one for someone at Christmas...