U.S. Release Date: March 12, 2003
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Running Time: 1 hour and 52 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (language and some sexual situations)

Beckham's Got Game
by Scott Holleran

Punctuated by a catchy soundtrack that's powered by Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up," Bend It Like Beckham offers a slow, satisfying burn about the conflict between conformity, in this case religion, and independence, displayed here in the arena of girls' sports.

Director and co-writer Gurinder Chadha's Bend it Like Beckham (the title refers to one of Britain's top male soccer players) is refreshingly upbeat in its portrayal of a girl's struggle to play sports, which is forbidden by her religious parents, originally from India.

The girl is Jess, played by the adorable Parminder K. Nagra, who owns the role and carries the movie. Jess is like a laser-guided missile on the soccer field—it's called football in England—maneuvering with force and agility around every boy who comes within her path and catching the eye of Jules (Keira Knightley), an athlete who's trying to strengthen her team.

Jules invites Jess to try out for the soccer team, coached by an ex-soccer player (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in a tender performance) whose own playing days are over due to a knee injury. Jess conceals her participation from her deeply religious parents, whose Sikh sect requires that young people pray when they encounter old people and that females cook, cover their bodies and spend time finding a suitable Sikh husband. For spirited Jess, it's like living under the Ayatollah.

The oncoming wedding of Jess's shallow sister (Archie Panjabi in a demanding, confused role), is contrasted with women's championship soccer, but director Chadha fails to follow through and fully resolve the central conflict between traditionalism and individualism, leaving Bend it Like Beckham with a muddled, if happy, ending that tries to have it both ways.

A romance between Jess and Joe works on screen, but unnecessarily complicates matters as there's chemistry between Jess and Jules. Beckham would have been better had Chadha chosen to focus either on the girls' friendship or on the love story.

Lesbian jokes get old quickly, despite some funny scenes with Juliet Stevenson as Jules's mother, and Chadha, with writers Paul Mayeda Berges and Guljit Bindra, cleverly employs a twist on the gay athlete stereotype.

Though it lacks the strength of its convictions, a good cast —especially the leading actors—a decent script and a playful, energetic and cheerful tone make Bend It Like Beckham. That sets it apart from most of what's playing on today's movie screens.

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