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Bend it Like Beckham
2003 - PG-13 - 112 Mins.
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Producer: Deepak Nayar, Gurinder Chadha, Deepak Nayer
Written By: Paul Mayeda Berges, Guljit Bindra, Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Burges
Starring: Keira Knightley, Parminder Nagra, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anupam Kher, Archie Panjabi
Review by: Greg Ursic
For North Americans, football is all about oblong spheroids, hotdogs and beer, cheerleaders, whacky fans, huge stadiums, linebackers that look like houses with legs, and the Super Bowl. But for the rest of the world, football is about regular spheroids, chips and lager, balletic strikers, obsessed fans, the occasional riot and The World Cup. The one thing that these two sports have in common (besides the copious amounts of alcohol) is that girls need not apply.

Jess has it bad. While proper Indian girls are supposed to be learning how to cook a full course Indian meal, and planning their wedding, the only thing on her mind is football. With a room that’s a shrine to football god David Beckham, she has to sneak around to play whenever she can. Jess finds an ally in Jules, a lanky tomboy who shares her love for the game, and convinces Jess to join the local woman’s team. Unfortunately Jess’ parents discover her secret and forbid her to play, demanding that she abandon her girlish silliness and concentrate on her sister’s upcoming wedding. Will parents ever learn that dreams can’t be dictated?

The film turns on newcomer Parminder Nagra who is inspired as Jess the conflicted heroine of the piece, bringing energy, innocence and authenticity to a character torn between tradition and her desires. Nagra skillfully balances the dramatic and comic elements of the script, setting the tone for the piece. Playing off her is a talented supporting cast, including Keira Knightley as Jules, Jess’ confidante and soul sister, whose fresh faced exuberance and assuredness is uplifting. Bollywood stalwart Anupam Kher is notably restrained as Jess’ father, an enlightened man who wants to protect his daughter from the prejudices he endured while secretly rooting for her, while Shaheen Khan, is hilarious as Jess’ mother, a slave to tradition and prone to mild histrionics. Jonathan Rhys Meyers with his steely liquid stare adopts a stoic gracefulness as the coach/love interest. Rounding out the cast is Juliet Stevenson a classically trained Shakespearean actor who borders on trashy slapstick as Jules’ concerned mother, uttering such lines as “Just remember, there’s a reason Sporty [Spice]’s the only one without a man”. But let’s not forget the footie.

While Chadha recruited actual football players from different schools to flesh out the team, the principal actors had never played football, and had to undergo ten weeks of comprehensive training, with each person receiving a customized program. The final product - a series of football sequences that are energetic, fluid, and most importantly, don’t look staged - is a testament to the skill and dedication of both the coach and the actors. Indeed the actors got caught up in their characters, at one point continuing their match against the German team long after the director called “Cut”. The scenes are enhanced by the frenetic down-to-the ground shots, achieved with a customized steadicam designed by Jong Lin, the Director of Photography.

The third film from writer/director Gurinder Chadha (“Bhaji on the Beach” and “What’s Cooking”), “Bend it Like Beckham” is typical of her earlier films: it features true to life characters, strong female leads who challenge social and cultural norms, skillfully blended cross-cultural casting and solid writing. Also, like her previous works you will note the complete absence of hi tech special effects, violence, foul language and mass marketing campaigns. And once again she has scored a hit, winning audience favorite awards at numerous festivals around the world, which in turn will translate into big box office.

This movies is recommended for anyone who has been jaded by the megabucks FX laden turkeys that have littered the screen as of late and wants to see a great movie that is fun and enjoyable. Studios take note – pay attention to the scripts and you won’t keep losing your shirt.

Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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