April 24, 2003

Bend Shows Artistic Flexability

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Life is tough for Jess Bhamra. As an 18 year-old growing up in West London, she doesn’t have a decent Indian boyfriend like her sister, is lacking in her Indian cooking skills, and is not nearly as focused on her traditional Indian heritage as she should be … according to her parents anyway. What is keeping Jess from being the perfect Indian daughter? Something horrible and completely un-Indian: she wants to be a soccer superstar.

Bend It Like Beckham star Jess, played by Parminder Nagra, has a major obsession with European soccer legend David Beckham, who is like the British soccer equivalent of Michael Jordan. Granted, while having full conversations with his poster on her wall might be a little over the edge, Jess soon finds that daydreaming really isn’t too farfetched.

Jess spends all her free time either practicing in her yard or playing soccer in the park, showing off her skills to the neighborhood guys. In a twist of fate, she’s suddenly discovered by Jules (Keira Knightley), a member of a local semi-pro women’s soccer team who thinks Jess has some real potential.

The team’s young Irish coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an ex-player himself who’s permanently out of the game due to a knee injury, isn’t convinced Jess is the right stuff however. But Jess quickly proves she’s got more than what it takes, and accepts a position on the team.

Knowing all too well that her parents would never approve of such an unladylike pastime, Jess concocts a complex web of stories to keep her parents from knowing what she’s been up to. Unfortunately, she can’t keep up the act forever, and more than once her flaky fashion-obsessed sister Pinky (Archie Panjabi) discovers the truth and rats Jess out.

Jess continues pursuing her dream, however, under a lot of pressure from her newfound friend Jules and coach Joe. And as the team gets better and starts traveling to compete, the tales of deception get a more complex.

Jules, despite her non-Indian background, is facing some growing pains as well. She wants to be a pro-soccer player in America, much to the chagrin of her ditsy mother (Juliet Stevenson), who would much rather see her daughter go out shopping and hook up with a decent boy, rather then spending all her time wearing sports bras and running around with girls.

Jules would go along with that plan in part, if it meant her hooking up with her off-limits coach. Unfortunately it looks like Joe will be more a part of Jess’s future than Jules’s. In a tangled web of anger over a mistaken kiss, Joe is left secretly pining for Jess, Jules not wanting anything to do with either one of them, and Jess no longer knowing who to turn to for support and friendship.

As the team advances towards the finals, Jess’s lies become too difficult to contain and her parents lay down the law once and for all. As Jess learns to cook a proper Indian meal and helps to prepare for her sister’s proper Indian wedding, the team is preparing for the championship game where an American recruiter will be scouting for potential pro talent. Jess doesn’t plan on being there.

Caught between loyalty towards her family and her desire to pursue a career in soccer, ultimately Jess will have to make some major life decisions. Will she forgo her own path towards athletic fame to follow family tradition and her parents’ wishes? Jess will have to take destiny into her own hands this time if she truly wants to accomplish her dreams.

Bend It Like Beckham could easily be mistaken for the Indian version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Anyone who’s ever felt oppressed by the pressures of trying to be their own person but not disappoint their parents at the same time will relate well to this film. Despite the potential to be just another typical teen coming-of-age flick, this movie really is for everyone. You will leave the theater weak from laughter and a little bit smarter about a culture you didn’t necessarily know much about beforehand.

Except for being a little too drawn out, this is a fantastic, well-acted comedy drama that puts a hilarious spin on some otherwise rather serious social, cultural, and sexual issues facing youth today. And let’s face it — you can’t go wrong with British accents. Bend It Like Beckham was a huge box office hit in Great Britain and Europe before it finally reached the U.S. a year later. It is currently playing at Cinemapolis on the Commons.


Archived article by Laura Borden