Combustible Celluloid
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With: Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers
Written by: Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges and Guljit Bindra
Directed by: Gurinder Chadha
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and sexual content
Running Time: 112
Date: 04/11/2002

Bend It Like Beckham (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Soccer It to Me

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

David Beckham does not appear in Gurinder Chadha's "Bend It Like Beckham," but his essence is everywhere.

Teenage Jess (Parminder Nagra), a girl of Indian descent who lives in England, idolizes him and gazes at the posters and images of him hanging all over her room. Jess kicks a pretty good soccer ball herself, but her traditional parents only want her to learn how to cook so that she can marry a nice Indian boy.

But Jess still plays with her mates in the park. While performing some particularly nice footwork, Jess attracts the attention of Jules (Keira Knightley), who belongs to an all-girls English soccer team. Jules invites Jess to join.

Unfortunately, Jess's parents won't have it. So Jess pretends to get a part-time job and sneaks away to be on the team. To make matters worse, Jess becomes smitten with their handsome Irish coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), which is awkward for several reasons. Not only would her parents disapprove of such a match, but Joe is not allowed to date his players -- and Jules also has a crush on him.

In other words, it's "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," except with soccer instead of a wedding. Jess must ultimately convince her old-fashioned, culturally-biased parents what it's like to be a modern kid -- that just because they suffered doesn't mean she has to suffer.

The rest of the movie plays out just the way you'd expect, except for one major difference; director Chadha doesn't end the movie with "the big game." Instead she makes it tough for poor Jess. Jess's sister is getting married on the same day that a major talent scout will be attending her game. If Jess doesn't go to the wedding, her life will suck forever. But if she misses the game, she'll never make it as a soccer player.

Despite all the creaky contrivances, Chadha delivers a solidly entertaining film, thanks mostly in part to the unquenchable spunk of the two lead actresses. The great Juliet Stevenson ("Truly Madly Deeply" and "Nicholas Nickleby") also turns up in a wonderful, hilarious supporting role as Jules's clueless mom. In one great scene, Jules and her dad try to explain the rules of soccer to her using table condiments.

Chadha casts a celebratory glow over the rest of the picture, with its many references to glorious food, the cheery wedding footage, and even the soccer (or "football") footage. Chadha never bothers to put two consecutive soccer shots together, but she still leaves us with a good idea that Jess and Jules can really play.

This is Chadha's third feature film, after "Bhaji on the Beach" (1993) and "What's Cooking?" (2000), and it's clear that she's a life-devouring force who lives every moment to the fullest. She's most enamored of food -- even more than soccer -- and it shows.

Still, I hope this is the last movie to milk this formula, but probably not. The huge success of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" guarantees at least another year's worth of clones.

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