At one point in the lavish, joyful spectacle of her Indian wedding, the bride, Pinky, perplexedly asks her younger sister, Jess (Parminder Nagra), why she wouldn’t want to get married too. With aching honesty, Jess answers, “I want more.” That yearning for something more, something free from the fetters of tradition, is what lies at the heart of Gurindar Chadha’s cross-culture, soccer-crazed comedy, “Bend It Like Beckham.”
The self-possessed daughter of Indian immigrants living in London, Jess spends hours swooning over posters of David Beckham—the English heartthrob soccer star—and sneaks out to play pick-up games in the park. After she meets Jules (Keira Knightley), a soccer-playing tomboy-spitfire, a chance for Jess to play for a real team comes along.
Tensions brew when the two girls both fall for Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), their soccer coach, and come to a heady boil when Jess’s tradition-minded parents, eager to make a marriageable Indian woman of their daughter, find out about Jess’s scandalous passion for sport.
Chadha’s coming-of-age East-West curry throws in various tantalizing issues concerning an Indian woman’s right to make her own choices and love the man she wants. And while “Beckham’s” gently satiric digs at Anglo-Indian family life is its most appealing trait, this is not an Indians-only offering. It’s a potluck of a movie, mindful to flesh out Joe and Jules’ struggles with their own families and their own search for personal happiness. Chadha, in that way, has concocted flavors to appeal to all audiences everywhere.
Nagra is pitch-perfect as Jess, vulnerable, tough, lovely and totally winning. Knightley and Rhys-Meyers match up well with her; both are gorgeous and up to task of upbeat, open-hearted fun. The rest of the ensemble, especially Anupem Kher and Shaheen Khan, as Jess’s parents, offer sharp, funny support.
Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges’ script, while brimming with well-observed, entertaining scenes, also contrives a symmetry between Jess’ and Jules’ families that feels awfully false, resulting, for example, in the naively farcical portrayal of Jules’ mom that would be more at home in a sitcom. It also settles for a tediously drawn-out fairy tale finale that clashes with the refreshing and uncompromising honesty that came before it. But its irresistible charms and performances are what linger and make “Beckham” a popcorn, er, samosa flick worth savoring.
Directed by: Gurinder Chadha
Written by: Gurinder Chadha, Guljit Bindra, Paul Mayeda Borges
Cast: Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anupam Kher, Archie Panjabi