Bend it like Beckham is impossible to dislike. Try as it might to alienate viewers with sports movie cliches and artificial conflicts, its infectiously happy ending is too strong to resist. Don’t even try.
PG-13 for language, sexual content
Bend it like Beckham taps into a burgeoning Indian-British culture. My Beautiful Laundrette and East is East spring to mind as movies set in the same world.
Jesminder (Parminder K. Nagra) is a teenager, and she’s fanatic about football. Her hero is real-life footballer David Beckham (best known in America, unfortunately, as the husband of Posh Spice). In her bedroom is a shrine to Beckham.
She’s very good in the pickup games at the park, and one day she gets invited to join a girls’ team. Of course she would love to, but her parents refuse to allow it. Indian girls may play soccer, but Jesminder is becoming a young lady, they say. Jess is expected to learn how to be a good Indian wife and mother. Besides, her sister’s wedding is coming up and will require a lot of Jesminder’s time.
But Jess follows her heart and not her parents’ advice. She joins the team anyway, making new friends and developing a crush on her coach. She tells her parents that she’s working part-time whenever there’s a practice or a game. She even arranges to “sleep over” at a relative’s house when the team travels to Germany.
Eventually her parents discover the truth, and they forbid her from playing any more football. This happens, of course, just when her team needs her the most.
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The central conflict is as old as drama itself: a repressive but well-meaning culture is at odds with the desires of its youth. Look at Romeo and Juliet or, better yet, Fiddler on the Roof and you’ll see the same story. Beckham is a copy, right down to the soft-hearted father who can’t say no to his daughter. But a copy can be every bit as good as the original, and Beckham gets the mix of tradition, individualism, and kindness right, and it works wonderfully.
Bend it like Beckham also borrows its ending from drama’s history books. From Homer to Shakespeare to the Golden Age of Hollywood, comedies have ended with all the loose ends being neatly tied up, preferably at a wedding. Bend it like Beckham bows to tradition and wraps up about seven loose ends (carefully set up throughout the course of the film), at a wedding, followed by the perfect kiss, with the world singing “Hot Hot Hot” together, with the ice-cream man driving by the park where everyone is playing.
Even if three of those endings make you gag, the rest are sure to win you over.
It’s easy to find things to disparage in Bend it like Beckham: the borrowed plot, the artificial conflicts, the calculated unfairness of the parents. There may be some who will find this film predictable, manipulative, and sickeningly sweet.
But most will find the energy infectious, the Indian-British-pop soundtrack peppy, the message positive, and the movie a real kick. Don’t miss Bend it like Beckham.