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Bend It Like Bekham

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Bend It Like Bekham

Starring: Parminder K. Nagra, Keira Knightley
Director: Gurinder Chada
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 112 Minutes
Release Date: March 2003
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Anupam Kher, Archie Panjabi, Shaznay Lewis, Frank Harper, Juliet Stevenson, Shaheen Khan

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Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

Monday, January 13, 2003 Posted: 5:08 PM EST (2208 GMT) TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iranian women have begun to penetrate the once all-male preserve of soccer stadiums, in a trend that authorities hope will improve the behavior of the Islamic Republic's fanatical male supporters.

Yep. The mellowing mullahs of modern Mesopotamia have achieved democracy at last. What's next? Women as players on the field? Iran is not ready for that - imagine how bare-legged coeds on the field would influence the behavior of men in the stands and on the playing grounds. Western nations, of course, are way past that with high schools and colleges encouraging either coed sports or at the very least some all-girls' teams. Just think, though about the resistance that would be put up by traditional parents, moms and dads who worry that their darlings might grow muscles, and who'd want to marry them then? Gurinder Chadha's "Bend It Like Beckham" takes on that very theme in a rollicking movie with an exuberance that one of my British friends tells me is fairly rare in comedies produced on the specter'd isle. If "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" can stun the experts by leading the box office for several weeks in what must have been considered a fringe indie, then why not "Beckham" - which is better acted, funnier, and has something to say about race and gender relations today?

The movie, which is co-written by director Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges, takes us to two communities in West London and Southall, one inhabited by a boisterous population of ethnic Indians, at least one of whom had emigrated from Kenya, and one housing a family of blondes who are traditional in their own way. Jess Bhamra (Parminder K. Nagra), a high-school senior who worships a professional soccer player named Beckham as evidenced by a large picture in her room, is about to enter an English college and is encouraged by her dad (Anupam Kher) and Mom (Shaheen Khan) to emulate her soon-to-be-married older sister Pinky (Archie Panjabi). Instead the parents are appalled that she has taken up an invitation from a white classmate, Jules (Keira Knightley) to try out for an all-girls' soccer team coached by Joe (Rhys Meyers). Fireworks begin when Jess's folks find out about her athletic sojourns, forcing Jess to sneak out of the house from time to time to join the team. Complications develop when the coach displays more amorous attention to Jeff than to Jules, the woman who has the hots for him. and when the date chosen for Jess's sister wedding is the very day that Jess is scheduled to play in the most important match of the season.

"Bend It Like Beckham" breaks no new ground - after all, has there even been a year that filmmakers have eschewed productions about inter-cultural rivalries and generational gaps? But this one is exceptional for the genre. No mindless, Adam Sandler-like "Waterboy" which reaches for the audience gut by finding a clown that everyone picks on but who shows 'em all up by the end, "Beckham" sneaks its theme easily and entertainly into the story, on the side of the angels in urging parents to avoid pushing their conventional expectations onto children who have been born into a different cultural world. Mr. Bhamra regrets that he gave in to social demands when the British subjects in Kenya laughed at his regular use of a turban and refused to allow him to enter into their competitions. Rather than use his resentment to fight for his daughter, he has unconsciously passed on his disillusionment in much the way that an abused child will pass on the brutality he has received to his own children.

Both the white English mom (Juliet Stevenson) and the Indian mother are fit subjects for Chadha's satiric eye, the former for her general ditziness and her conviction that soccer playing has turned her daughter, Jules, into a lesbian; and the latter for overly protecting her little girl, trying to fit her into the dull conformity of cooking chapatis and masalas coupled with marriage to a traditional Indian boy.

The swiftly-paced film is all in the greatest of fun, with young Parminder K. Nagra and her love interest, played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, turning on the chemistry in buoyant performances. Craig Pruess's lively soundtrack bounces up the mood even further while Jong Lin's lensing, aided mightily by Justin Krish's editing, keeps the soccer plays exciting.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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