Bend It Is A Real Kick!
|Starring:||Parminder K. Nagra, Keira Knightley, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers|
All that fancy foot work, wow! And a mature story that manages to rise above the typical teen fare. And Freddy Prinze, Jr., isn’t anywhere to be found.
To be sure, Bend It Like Becham is a soccer movie. Perhaps, in my limited experience, it is the best soccer film ever made. Which, sadly, isn’t saying much. I mean, some of us saw Ladybugs (ugh!), Mean Machine, and Victoryjust to name a few, but more often than not, these films were less about the game and more about something else, something uninteresting and formulaic.
Of course, Bend It is about gender, nationality, and race stereotypes handled intelligently with fresh faces and strong emotions. But sprinkled throughout is kicking, headbutts, and goals.
Jesminder Bhamra (Parminder K. Nagra) is a high school aged girl living in Britain. She is of Indian background and lives with her traditionally Indian family. Her friends call her “Jes.” Jes plays soccer, “football” to the rest of the world. Her bedroom is adorned with pictures of David Beckham, the famous English footballer. Jes talks to Beckham’s picture nightly; he is her imaginary confidant. And even though Mr. Beckham has significant sex appeal (is married to “Posh” Spice in real life and has been voted best male body etc.), the faux relationship Jes has with Beckham not one of a young girl’s infatuation, but one of respect for his talent; soccer is her passion.
One day, Jes is discovered by Jules (Kiera Knightley) playing soccer in the park with boys. Her footwork is impressive. Jules is a white fem fatale who you may remember playing the decoy queen in Episode I. She is a British Natalie Portman. In Beckham, she is a tall and slender athlete whose soccer abilities appear to be on display. At times, throughout the film, Jules appears in a sports bra, much to her mother’s disapproval. The funny thing is that Jules mother disapproves of her daughter’s football career for the same reasons that Jes’ mother disapproves: soccer/football isn’t very feminine, both mothers conclude.
Bend It hardly missteps getting much mileage out of Jules mother’s struggles with her daughter’s new friend, an Indian girl whose relationship with her daughter appears to be a little too close. For those of you not familiar with Indian culture, this film introduces us to various aspects of the culture including marriage, dancing, and the food (oh, yes, the food, yum, yum). For fans of Bollywood, there is dancing and much music but done in a spontaneous natural way so as to keep American audiences in their seats. Standard Bollywood fare like Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, for example, include long, well-choreographed, singing and dancing sequences involving the whole family, and, after about three of these spontaneous musical eruptions, American audiences start to wander off. Director Gurinder Chadha (What’s Cooking) has struck an amusing balance here but has not forgotten the need for little bit of the music and dance so common in the Indian film industry.
I thought that a few characters needed a little fine tuning. Ameet Chana’s (who plays Jes’ best friend Tony) character’s revelation was a little out of place and smacked of movie magic and convention. The conclusion is a tad forced containing an unoriginal resolution to the duo’s problems. But considering everything that’s going on in the world, this light story is refreshing and just what American audiences need.
I’ll bet that Bend It Like Beckham could have as much success as My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In a lot of ways, Bend It is a better film and could have more appeal to this generation’s American soccer families. Soccer is an amazing game that plays well on the big screen, and it doesn’t matter that girls are kicking it. What matters is that they are taken seriously both as athletes and as people.