bend it like beckham (2003)


director: gurinder chadha

parminder nagra, keira knightley, jonathan rhys meyers

Gurinder Chadha’s assimilation comedy, Bend it Like Beckham, is the sort of light, energetic comedy that the English have been making when they haven’t been glorifying the exploits of their painfully stylish criminal class. It’s a smart comedy, like The Full Monty, that diffuses the abundant social tensions in every British suburb or estate with a modern update of the old, phlegmatic British admonition: “Mustn’t grumble.”

Parminder Nagra plays Jess, the younger daughter of a Sikh family who live and work near Heathrow airport. Her family are living in a carefully preserved province of India amidst the terraced houses and high street shops, but Jess has become more particularly English through her love of soccer and England’s star player, David Beckham.

She hides her love for the game from her parents, just as she hides a gruesome burn on her leg from the world, behind loose athletic pants and a sullen fearfulness. It’s only in the park, where she neatly scores goals against her macho pals, that she can shine. One day, she’s spotted by Jules (Keira Knightley), pretty and sporty and the star of a local women’s team coached by Joe (Jonathan Rhys Myers), a former soccer hopeful sidelined by an injury.

Jess, Jules and Joe become pals, then form a romantic triangle that threatens to tear them, and their now-winning team apart. And thanks to a series of hokey but well-played mix-ups, Jess’ parents have gone from being distressed by a rumour that their daughter is a lesbian, to outraged that she’s playing soccer. It will scandalize their community, and jeopardize their older daughter’s chances of a good marriage.

The story is as familiar as an old friend’s face, and just as happily met, thanks to Chadha’s brisk, energetic direction, and the appealing cast. The inevitable happy ending is helped along by the fact that you want Jess to succeed, to get her scholarship with Jules to play in California, to get Joe, to bring her parents one step further into her polyglot, multiculti British society, and out of their defensive, self-imposed ghetto.