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
This movie might best be characterized as a collection of formulas - underdog sports flick, culture clash flick, generational conflict flick, young-love-overcomes-obstacles flick. The setting of transplanted Indian-ness makes it feel like one of Mira Nair's films - `Monsoon Wedding' or `Mississippi Masala.' There's also quite a bit of youthful, flippant, foul-mouthed, blue-collar London impertinence going on - an episode of `Eastenders,' perhaps.
And yet to dismiss the movie with this quick sketch and a few references would do it a terrible injustice. OK, no, it is perhaps not `great.' It's a feelgood movie, and while it dips a bit into serious subject waters, it doesn't stay down too long. And, it really IS a collection of all these movie formulas - and, I submit, they do exactly what they're intended to do. It's ALMOST too much, but it's not. The formulas lead to their inevitable pay offs, of course, but they pay off in ways that are not quite expected. The final outcome is rarely in doubt, but throughout the twists and turns, the audience (at least the audience where I was watching), find themselves shamelessly twisting their hankies on the sidelines, crying just a little where they're supposed to cry, and cheering when they can't but cheer. There is a point at which you want to stand up and clap wildly - it's not at the end, so you can't, but the audience where I saw it sure wanted to. I think they felt a little cheated that they couldn't. The mood of the end is not one conducive to raising the rafters, but many clapped softly anyway. Granted the movie isn't timed quite right, but it really IS that good - it makes you want to show your gratefulness for the efforts of writer, director, and actors.
Any flaws of timing or plausibility I find I can easily forgive due to the overwhelming charm of the movie's star, Parminder K. Nagra. Her expressions, her boundless energy and defiance, her ability to convey the conflict her character feels between duty to family and wishing for something more - I was completely taken in, from start to finish. This actress is going places. She has the kind of playful wit and irreverence you see in the best early John Cusack, coupled with a depth to play convincing disappointment and struggle. If you love `Say Anything,' with the passion that most true devotees, including me, do - you will love this film. In fact, if `Say Anything' is your favorite film, drop whatever you're doing and RUN out to see this film, before it leaves theatres. Drive 100 miles if you have to. It has that same magic.
It doesn't hurt that Ms. Nagra possesses a true, deep, classic beauty and grace akin to that of, say, a Kelly or a Bergman. I mean, my fellow red-blooded males, this woman is flat-out, drop-dead stunning. She's equally fetching as a feisty tomboy jock (my personal preference) or as an elegant, traditionally clad Sikh woman. Go see it to watch her, even if the subject matter isn't your thing.
It is perhaps not a great movie, but it's one that will, due to its sheer quirkiness and great heart, likely find its way onto the `favorites' shelves of many, and not just young girls aspiring to make it big and become soccer stars. Evidently the movie is a huge hit in England and Germany, and Parminder is well on her way to becoming a superstar. Go out and see what all the fuss is about.
P.S. I must beg to differ with the reviewer who claims that women's soccer is not big in the U.S. Women's soccer is HUGE in the U.S. - there are perhaps ten times as many young women playing soccer in America as in the whole of Europe. The U.S. national team is THE powerhouse international women's team, and has been for almost a decade. Brandi Chastain's shirt-removing gesture in the 1999 Women's World Cup, which graced the cover of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated, has become iconic. Young women from around the world most certainly DO aspire to be on American college teams - North Carolina and Santa Clara, I believe, particularly. American Mia Hamm, far and away the greatest women's player of all time, dominates the sport like a Michael Jordan. I'm fairly sure the U.S. is the only country to have a professional women's soccer league (maybe Japan as well?). This film is fully aware of this. If girls' soccer coaches from age five on up don't make this film required viewing for their team, they should consider leaving coaching.
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