A comedy about bending the rules to reach your goal, Bend It Like Beckham explores the world of women's football, from kick-abouts in the park to freekicks in the Final. Set in Hounslow, West London and Hamburg, the film follows two 18 year olds with their hearts set on a future in professional soccer. Heart-stopping talent doesn't seem to be enough when your parents want you to hang up your football boots, find a nice boyfriend and learn to cook the perfect chapatti. Written by
My scalp still smarts from the burning coals heaped on it when I vowed I love this film. Bring on the coals; I'll walk over them as well to say again that I love "Bend it Like Beckham." Granted, there's a lot of "in spite of" in that confession. It's a bit movie-of-the-week; the screenplay is on the paint-by-numbers side. And, most troublingly, the director's commentary implies that in this film beauty can be found primarily amongst the white of skin.
The film's genius is not in what's obvious to the Syd Field-doctored eye: character arcs, themes, construction. It's in both the surface and what lurks deep beneath, but not in those layers of artistic topsoil that reviewers seem most often to scratch at. Powerful, sometimes semi-clad female bodies not simply on display but kicking the crap out of a football do a better job of naturalizing female strength and agility than Lara Croft or Zhang Ziyi will ever do. These are real bodies (Keira Knightley's excepted) whose work is not to look great first and kick butt later. They are working bodies whose beauty is in their movement and self-determination. And, in my book, lead actress Parminder Nagra is one of the most gorgeous creatures ever captured on screen not only because she can lay claim to that hackneyed adjective, "luminous," but because her performance has an honesty and un-bookish intelligence that's utterly compelling.
The result is a film women can enjoy without feeling like they're making a pact with the devil to do so. As in Chadha's "Bride and Prejudice," the relationships amongst women sizzle with a chemistry that can't be neatly slotted into the stodgy, Sweet Valley High categories of "best friends" or "sisters." Perhaps Chadha is even right in her commentary to disavow the film's flirtation with lesbianism. "Bend it Like Beckham" has an electricity that can't be reduced to the simple hetero/homosexual love triangle its conventionally structured script would suggest. The precise nature of its pleasure is, ultimately, a bit of a mystery and is all the more seductive for it.
Oh yes, and did I mention that it's hilarious?
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