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"BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM"
(2002) (Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: An Indian girl must choose between following her family's conservative rules and traditions or pursuing her goal of playing soccer in London and then America.
PLOT:
Jess Bhamra (PARMINDER NAGRA) is an Indian girl living in London with her parents (ANUPAM KHER & SHAHEEN KHAN) and older sister, Pinky (ARCHIE PANJABI), who adores and idolizes soccer legend David Beckham and wishes she could play. Yet, her conservative parents don't think it's right for her and want her to adhere to their traditions and find a man to marry, much like Pinky will be doing in a few weeks.

Jess gets the chance to fulfill her dream when Brit Jules Paxton (KEIRA KNIGHTLEY) spots her playing in the park with her friends, including Tony (AMEET CHANA). Jules plays for a local all-girls team and convinces her dreamy coach, Joe (JONATHAN RHYS MEYERS), to allow Jess to try out. Jules wants to play professionally in America, but while her dad (FRANK HARPER) is supportive, her mother (JULIET STEVENSON) isn't, as she fears that her daughter is not feminine enough.

As the girls become fast friends, they must contend with both falling for Joe as well as dealing with their parents' reactions to them playing soccer. With Jess' actions putting a strain on her relationship with her family as they prepare for Pinky's wedding, she must decide whether to abide by their rules and traditions and give up her dream, or throw all caution to the wind and keep pursuing it.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
What is it with kids? They don't have any regard for familial or cultural traditions, are likely to disappoint or break the hearts of their parents, and don't seem to recognize the time-tested wisdom of those who raised them.

What is it with parents? They seem to enjoy being dictators and stifling individualism, are likely to put all sorts of restrictions on their kids, and don't seem like they're in tune with their offspring, modern culture or "the times."

As long as there have been parents and children, such disparate yet similar thoughts have reigned, with kids then growing up to be parents and ironically often adopting the philosophies and behavior they earlier despised and/or rebelled against. And as long as both parties on either side of the conflict exist, various forms of entertainment will address that, often supporting the younger set.

The latest such effort is "Bend It Like Beckham," a smash hit in its native England where both Beckham (a famous soccer, um, football player) and "bend it (a football term) make sense. As helmed by writer/director Gurinder Chadha ("What's Cooking?") - who works from a script written by newcomer Guljit Bindra and Paul Mayeda Berges ("What's Cooking?") -- the film follows the efforts of a teenage Indian girl living in London who's trying to play football/soccer despite the objections of her loving, but traditional and seemingly close-minded family.

Its "underdog overcomes obstacles to pursue dream" theme is nothing new, and has fueled other such efforts from "Rocky" to "Billy Elliot." It's also pure formula. Thankfully, though, it's of the mostly acceptable and pleasant variety that goes down fairly easily despite its occasional rough edges.

The film's first scene tells us everything we need to know. In it, we see Jess Bhamra -- Parminder Nagra making her feature film debut in a completely winning and engaging performance - playing her beloved sport on TV and in front of a huge crowd. An announcer then asks her mother - Shaheen Khan ("Hollow Reed," "Captives") - if she's proud of her. "Not at all," she responds, adding that Jess shouldn't be running around with men, showing her bare legs and bringing shame to the family.

We soon realize, however, that that's just a symbolic daydream, as well as the fact that this isn't just a single generation clash story, but rather a dual one. You see, Jess' new friend and teammate - the alluring Keira Knightley ("Pirates of the Caribbean," "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace") -- has a mother -- Juliet Stevenson ("Nicholas Nickleby," "Emma") in a funny role - who doesn't believe football and femininity can coexist. After all, she states, there's a reason Sporty Spice is the only single one of those girls.

Being a teen drama, there has to be some romance, and it comes in the form of Jonathan Rhys Meyers ("Titus," "Ride With the Devil") who plays their wise and dreamy coach with his own strained relationship with his dad (although we only hear about that one).

A triangular relationship of sorts soon develops between Jess, Jules and Joe that threatens their friendship and pending romance(s) and puts more stress on the protagonist's life. What's a football-loving, Indian teen in England to do? Why, she keeps pursing her dream despite the odds, obstacles and complications and that's a big part of what makes the film so endearing.

The effort might be a little disjointed at times, contain perhaps too many (but expected) musical montages and too much person to person advice - including from Ameet Chana ("Wild West") as a gay friend and Anupam Kher ("Kya Kehna," "Mohabbatein") as the father who's obviously wiser and more compassionate than he initially seems. Yet, those flaws are relatively easy to accept and/or overlook, all of which allows the viewer to sick back and enjoy the offerings.

With some funny bits of dialogue, heartwarming moments and just the right lighthearted touch, the film is rather entertaining. It should also have audiences cheering for the young ladies to succeed but still have their families accept them and their dreams. As long as you don't mind the formula, the winning performances and un-fatigable can-do spirit make it worth seeing. You don't need to know what any part of its title means to enjoy "Bend It Like Beckham." The film rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed February 3, 2002 / Posted March 28, 2003


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