Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in All Play and No Work | 0 comments

Beckham1

Disclaimer: Patriarchal oppression and jabs at homosexuality.

This coming-of-age flick made stars out of its young protagonists almost overnight as Parminder Nagra spent six years on ER and Keira Knightley is, well, all over the place. The film follows these two cultural misfits in London as they hope to transcend societal norms and become footballing phenoms.

Nagra plays Jess Bhamra, an Indian girl from a traditional Sikh family whose bedroom houses more pictures of David Beckham than a televised Manchester United game. In her spare time, Bhamra dominates soccer (football) matches against local athletes in the park. She does this without her parents permission or knowledge after her mother shamefully says, “I don’t want you running about half-naked in front of men.” She’d much rather see her become more like her shallow sister, who can cook and plans to get married. The only things she can seemingly turn to are her Beckham posters, which she talks to regularly. “Anybody can make Aboo Gobi, but how many can bend it like Beckham?” she says.

Meanwhile, we meet Jules (Knightley) as she’s Beckham2shopping for bras with her mother (the hilarious Juliet Stenevson). As her mother shuffles through pump-ups and gelatin bras that create instant cleavage, Jules turns to the sports bras. When Jules is out on a jog in the park, she spots Jess and invites her to join a women’s team called the Hounslow Harriers (coached by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). In order to join the team and possibly earn the attention of some professional scouts, Jess tells her parents she got a job. But what will she do when the final match conflicts with her sister’s wedding?

In a film like this, you’d expect to see the exploitation of cultural clashes and a display of how savage and “behind” Indian culture is, but director and co-writer Gurinda Chada parallels the actions of the girls’ parents for a brilliant social commentary. While Jess’s mother insists she start looking for an Indian boy, Jules’s mother advises her to dress sexier and attract men. When neither of them does, everyone begins to suspect they are lesbians, which is hysterical to say the least. “There’s a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one without a fella,” Jules’s mother says.

Nagra’s performance is astonishingly strong considering her rookie status. When she got the part, Nagra was worried about a scar on her leg. But instead of masquing it, Chada worked the scar and story behind it into the script. Though it’s a minor scene, it creates more empathy for Jess and strengthens her relationship with the coach. This progressive, feminist film presents strong, independent female characters living in a patriarchal world and asks its viewers to abandon gender roles and traditions. It’s a bold statement, and one that may turn off some viewers, but that – more than anything else – makes Bend it Like Beckham a shot and a goal.

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