t's no surprise that "Bend It Like Beckham" is
coming to American theaters sometime later this year after a successful run in
its native England. It's one of those "feel good" hits that will pull
in the same crowd that gave repeat business to the surprise hit of 2002, "My
Big Fat Greek Wedding." Like "Wedding", "Beckham"
is about an eccentric ethnic family (at least "ethnic" according to
the majority of Americans and Britains) that refuses and fights back when their
daughter tries to break rank and "do her own thing."
The ethnicity here is Indian (as in India), and the heroine
is young Jessie (Parminder K. Nagra), a tomboy with a natural gift for soccer
(aka football). "Beckham" is a lighthearted comedy with no real
serious overtones, so it comes as no surprise that Jessie will eventually sell
her passion for soccer to her parents who, despite all of their non-acceptance
up to this point, will throw up their hands and give in. This is Light Fluff
Entertainment designed to make you feel good and come out of the theaters
smiling like a fool.
"Bend It Like Beckham" does all of the above and
not very much else. Star Parminder Nagra is believable as the athletic tomboy
whose bedroom is plastered with posters of British soccer star Beckham (hence
the title). Like all sports-minded teen, Jessie dreams of playing "the big
game" with her hero and coming out as the hero herself. She gets the chance
to play soccer with an all-girls' team when the very Caucasian Jules (Keira
Knightley) spots her playing in the park. After an audition, Jessie joins Jules
and handsome coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), who she promptly falls for and
Co-written and directed by Gurinder Chadha (who appears in
the final credits), the film is obviously very in tune with the Indian
community. It's not hard to believe that Chadha grew up with these same rules
and stubbornness, much like Nia Vardalos, the writer and star of "Greek
Wedding", did when she penned that comedy. And like Vardalos' Greek
family, Chadha's Indian family is obviously over exaggerated to highlight the
comedy. The two films are so similar, in fact, that just like Vardalos, Chadha
isn't really damning her Indian family, but is really celebrating them in all
their colorful glory and dysfunction.
But there are some problems with the film. Halfway through
the movie we get a silly subplot about Jessie and the Natalie Portman lookalike
Jules both expressing their affections for Joe, which causes a divide between
the best friends. This is an unnecessary subplot that hinders the movie rather
than adds anything to it. Actually, the whole Joe/Jessie angle could have been
gotten rid of completely. Besides adding at least 20 ill-advised minutes to
"Beckham", the two ideas kill the comedy vibe of the film the same way
road bumpers kill a pleasant Sunday drive. It also doesn't help that Jonathan
Rhys-Meyers' Joe comes across as mostly just dull.
Much of the focus is on Indian family life, as it should
be. Besides Jessie, there's her sister Pinky (Archie Panjabi), who is in
constant turmoil as her wedding day nears. The film uses Pinky's impending
marriage as a center, with Jessie's quest for soccer stardom fitting in around
it. Anupam Kher plays Jessie's father, and although the screenplay gives him a
background relating to soccer, it was also unnecessary. The fact that he's her
father and doesn't want her to suffer from failure is enough.
If there is one big problem with "Beckham" it's
that the screenplay offers too much when it should be spending its time focusing
on the comedy and Jessie's soccer. As a result, the supposedly pivotal "big
game" where American scouts are supposed to gauge Jessie and Jules' talent
for drafting is too downplayed. Not only do we not know who the heck
they're playing, it's unbelievable that the performances put on by both girls
would have impressed anyone, much less a scout that flew all the way across the
Atlantic just to see them. As a viewer, I didn't "get" why anyone
would be interested in them from this particular performance. The whole sequence
was that poorly executed.
Not happy with already jamming "Beckham" with
throwaway plotlines, the film also adds a ridiculous side story about how Jules'
unbelievably dense mom thinks Jules is a lesbian, and that Jessie is her lover.
What was the point of this again? Actually, there is no point, so don't bother
trying to figure it out. If this proves anything, it's that the film would have
benefited greatly from extra trimming for better pace and more focus. The rest
are better left for the DVD's "deleted scenes" section.
"Bend it like Beckham" works as a comedy, but
filmmaker Gurinder Chadha fails to see that she has nothing beyond a
lighthearted comedy about clashing cultures. Why try to make this a "Monsoon
Wedding" (a terrific Indian drama that's also about a wedding) when it
doesn't have the heart to be one? Take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes of
extraneous footage out of "Beckham" and the film has the makings of a
hilarious comedy. Right now, it's just amusing and 15 minutes too long for its