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'Bend It Like Beckman'

'Bend It' scores exuberantly

Friday, April 18, 2003

By Sharon Eberson, Post-Gazette Sunday Magazine Editor

Bend It Like Beckham" is that rare movie that manages to throw together a smorgasbord of familiar themes -- coming-of-age teens, friendship and romance, family and culture clashes -- and yet leaves the moviegoer feeling satisfied rather than gorged.

 
 
'Bend It
Like Beckham'

RATED: PG-13 for language and sexual content.

STARRING: Parminder Nagra; Keira Knightley; Jonathan Rhys-Meyers

DIRECTOR: Gurinda Chadha

WEB SITE: www2.benditlikebeckham.com

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It's a feast, all right, with a big fat Sikh wedding, characters worth cheering for and spirited soccer play to boot.

"Bend It" is an unabashed crowd-pleaser just like its namesake, British superstar David Beckham. His claim to fame in the Colonies might be his marriage to a Spice Girl, but in European football circles, the cry is, "Nobody bends it like Beckham," for his ability to curve the ball past goalkeepers. (Football, in this case, being what the rest of the world calls soccer.)

Director/co-writer Gurinda Chadha weaves a tale of Jess Bhamra (Parminder K. Nagra), a girl trying to find her way amid family pressures to conform to Indian traditions and her own desire to follow in her idol's cleats. She's befriended by fellow footballer Juliette "Jules" Paxton (Keira Knightley), who recruits her for the hometown Hounslow Harriers, a girl's team.

Jess' parents have many issues with her athletic dreams, not the least of which is how much leg she shows in her uniform shorts. Her father is harboring a bad taste as a cricket player back home in India who was snubbed when he tried to play in England. Her mother wants only for Jess to learn how to make a proper Indian meal and to get married like her older sister, whose wedding is imminent.

Jess wants to be a dutiful daughter, but the lure of football proves too great. She sneaks off to play, and there's more trouble when she develops a crush on her coach, Joe (John Rhys Meyers), who also sets Jules' heart aflutter.

Are you following? Probably, because it's all been told before, but rarely with such endearing enthusiasm.

At its best, "Bend It" offers characters that are multidimensional, especially the delightful scene-stealer Juliet Stevenson as Jules' mother, who wants only for her daughter to be more girly girl than athlete. She sums up the feelings of both exasperated mums with the line: "Just remember. There's a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one without a fellow."

There are rigid parents here, but the ones we care about bend for their children's sakes, even if it means having their hearts broken.

If the film falters, it's where it's derivative of other recent audience favorites, particularly "Monsoon Wedding," and where scenes pile up at the end, tying up each character in a neat little bow.

But even that doesn't stop us from rooting for Jess and Jules, their families and friends, and the proof is in the box office. Chadha's very British movie is quickly making a move on indie record-breaker "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." USA Today reported Monday that after five weeks on 216 U.S. screens, the film had taken in $4.3 million and was on a similar pace as "Greek Wedding."

This weekend, "Bend It" moves to 380 screens and we'll see if it has the legs to continue its roll. I wouldn't bet against it.


Sharon Eberson can be reached at seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.

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