Bend It Like Beckham
(directed by Gurinder Chadha)

Bend It Like Beckham is a single-idea film, pretty much summed up by its tagline, 'Who wants to cook Aloo Gobi when you can bend a ball like Beckham?' Jesminder 'everyone except my mum calls me Jess' Bharma (Parminder Nagra) is destined by her parents for law school and marriage (to an Indian, of course). Her secret footballing talent is nurtured after she meets fellow footballer Jules (Kiera Knightley), and soon she's torn between her passion for football and her love for her parents.

Like many other single-idea films, after an amusing opening (featuring cameo appearances by various well-known sports commentators), Bend It Like Beckham soon went off the boil. Football is as good a metaphor for growing up as any, but the director appeared as uninterested in the subject as Mrs Bharma, leading to a painful lack of conviction in the footballing sections. The pacing was rather slow, with plot developments telegraphed a football pitch away, and the dialogue amongst the teenagers frequently verged on cringeworthy. Too often, the script seemed to be attempting to explore every available racial cliché, not to mention a bit of gender and sexual stereotyping on the side.

Parminder Nagra was as convincing as the script allowed, and Archie Panjabi was good as her more conventional elder sister. Kiera Knightley, on the other hand, never quite looked comfortable on the football pitch, and Juliet Stevenson, as Jules' mother, looked and sounded disconcertingly like Mrs Elton.

Despite its many flaws, Bend It Like Beckham remained watchable, occasionally humorous and even a bit touching, and the end wasn't nearly as sickly-tacked-on-happy-ending-ish as I'd feared it might be half-way through. Cautiously recommended.

28 December 2003