‘Bend It like Beckham’ is worth seeing… and seeing again

Parminder Nagra and Jonathan Rhys-Meyer in 'Bend It Like Beckham'
Parminder Nagra and Jonathan Rhys-Meyer in ‘Bend It Like Beckham’

Bend It Like Beckham never would’ve been made if it had been pitched to a studio executive at a major Hollywood studio. A story about the obstacles faced by a young Anglo-Indian teen girl who dreams of becoming a professional soccer player would’ve been deemed too specific. Her problems wouldn’t be of interest to anyone outside of her race, class and culture. But Bend It Like Beckham was an international box office phenomenon when it played in theatres, and seeing it again on DVD, reveals why it has such broad audience appeal. In Bend It Like Beckham, audiences of all ages, races and cultures, can see themselves as they attempt to conquer insurmountable obstacles in pursuit of their individual dreams.

Bend It Like Beckham loses little in being reduced from the movie screen to the television screen on DVD. The story is the strength of this film and the comedy is just as crisp and laugh out-loud funny as ever.

Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) dreams of playing professional soccer, which is a next-to-impossible dream according to the constraints of her family’s Indian class and culture. According to her mother, instead of perfecting her considerable talents on the soccer pitch, Jess should be in the kitchen learning how to cook Aloo Gobi, when she isn’t making every effort to make herself more physically alluring for her future husband. For Jess, the daughter of second generation immigrants living in western London, an arranged marriage isn’t out of the question.

When the beautiful young tomboy Jules (Keira Knightley) catches Jess playing soccer in the park, she asks her to try-out for her team. The two quickly become best friends and co-conspirators in their secret passion for soccer, a game that is scorned by Jules’ mother and forbidden by Jess’ parents.

The only thing that could come between them, of course, is a handsome young man. Enter their team coach, Joe, played by the sloe-eyed Jonathan Rhys-Meyer, who takes a break from more intense roles in Velvet Goldmine and Michael Collins in Bend It Like Beckham. Joe isn’t impressed with Jess at first. Later he is charmed by Jess’ innocence and their shared love of the game draws them together romantically. But Jules also has a crush on Joe, and the love triangle that develops makes everything a little bit more confusing and complicated.

Bend It Like Beckham gave Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley their first feature film roles. It’s nice to see where they started as they’ve both since gone on to greater success in Hollywood. Knightley’s next film was the box office smash Pirates of the Caribbean opposite teen heart-throb Orlando Bloom and Johnny Depp. And Parminder Nagra has become a regular on the cast of the television drama ER.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyer underplays his role as Joe, the soccer coach who catches the fancy of both leading ladies. Rhys-Meyer’s subtle and gentle portrayal adds an element of mystery to the on-screen romance. Juliet Stevenson, as Jules’ mother, steals every scene that she’s in. Normally a staple of period films, Stevenson stretches herself as a woman who fears she will never be able to reach Jules, her only child and only daughter, who seems to exist in constant defiance of stereotypic male and female sex roles.

The director of Bend It Like Beckham, Gurinder Chadha, has obviously been influenced by the films of Bollywood. Every frame of this film is packed with all of the color and vitality that is essential to Indian filmmaking. In the “making of” video on the DVD, Chadha reveals that Bend It Like Beckham is the most autobiographical of all of her movies, which is probably why this film seems to paint such a realistic portrait of modern family life.

Using her own family as extras in the wedding celebration scenes, Chadha includes all of the stuff that only happens at big family gatherings — high-spirited dancing, a couple making out in the ladies restroom, and a drunken argument that turns into a family brawl in the back room. Chadha’s commentary also reveals what the important role music plays in this film. From the upbeat music cue that introduces Jess’ talent at handling of a soccer ball, to the use of the opera aria, “Nessun Dorma”, when Jess finally manages to “bend a ball” like Beckham, music plays a very important and specific role. The music cues are all buoyant and bright and some are hilarious re-records of popular western music by Indian artists. All of the music emphasizes the youth and vitality on display in Bend It Like Beckham.

Bonus features on the DVD include commentary from the director Gurinder Chadha and her husband and co-writer, Paul Mayeda Berges. The making of this film was a family affair and together they share many of the happy memories they remember that took place off-camera during the filming of Bend It Like Beckham.

The DVD also includes 10 deleted/extended scenes that were eliminated from the final edit of the film, a music video and a short (and often hilarious) film hosted by Gurinder Chadha and her mother about “how to” make Aloo Gobi. Most of the deleted scenes that are included on the DVD would’ve done little to enhance the main storyline. It is easy to guess why they were not included in the final cut. But a couple of the scenes, most notably a wonderfully acted scene between Jess and her sister, Pinkie beautifully played by Archie Panjabi, reveal the depth of the acting talent of Bend It Like Beckham’s entire cast.

If you missed it in the theatre, check out Bend It Like Beckham on DVD. And even if you caught it in the theatre, you’ll want to catch it again on DVD. It’s just the thing to cure the mid-winter blahs.

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