“I didn’t ask to be good at football; Guru Nanak must have blessed me”: ‘Bend it like Beckham’ Review
Co-written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, Bend it like Beckham appears at first to be an underdog sports comedy but quickly reveals that it has an ace up its sleeve - something more and genuinely special.
Chadha’s film follows Jess (Parminder Nagra), a Punjabi Sikh, living in London who loves football (again, I won’t refer to it as soccer) but isn’t allowed to play thanks to her family. All that changes for Jess, once Jules (Keira Knightley) sees her playing and invites her to join the local women’s team in Hounslow, London coached by Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).
Bend it like Beckham has elements of a classic underdog sports story but it’s so much more than that – at times Chadha expertly uses Jess and Jules to explore themes of social class, culture differences and much more. It’s a film that deceptively uses film to talk about relationships and much more importantly it actually uses its sport, football, to explore all these different ideas like coming of age, romance, adulthood etc.
In terms of the romance, which there is, it actually feels more akin to something like what Francois Truffaut explored within the classic Jules and Jim (perhaps Chadha had one of the character’s names be the same as Jules as an homage). Much like Jules and Jim, Bend it like Beckham also explores relationships through a sincere and warm prism in a way that makes it relatable, humane and utterly absorbing.
While the relationship trio is one of the founding stones of the film, Bend it like Beckham also has great football scenes. Chadha and her cinematographer Jong Lin (who shot a lot of Ang Lee’s early films) present the Hounslow team games with a great “you are there” feel that makes it seem like you’re actually playing with the team and celebrating with them. One of the things that also make Chadha’s film great is the stunning cinematography. It’s beautifully shot by Lin but it actually has all the vibrant and striking colors of a Bollywood film as well; it’s energetic and the colors just pop right off the screen.
Bend it like Beckham doesn’t feel like any other sports comedy, it truly feels like its own unique story that effectively uses its sport to delve into some heavier topics like social commentary all while never forgetting to show why its characters love the sport.
Funny, sincere, incredibly entertaining and just utterly delightful, Bend it like Beckham is a film that anybody can enjoy even if you’re not a fan of football. It's smart, wonderfully written and has a great tone where its inspirational moments feel completely earned and not forced at all. It also doesn’t hurt that Nagra and Knightley are incredible in it – their chemistry is tremendously contagious from moment one – as soon as they start playing together you can’t help but root for both of them.
While there are many surprises to the joys of watching Bend it like Beckham, it beautifully aspires to be more than a romantic sports drama. Not only does it talk about social issues and family but it also addresses something very important: passion. Passion for wanting to do something that you love and never letting go of that passion because of whatever society tells you – it’s a great message and one that the film fully embraces with joy and winning charm. Bend it like Beckham is an absolute charmer and a truly groundbreaking entry into the sports genre.