Bend it like Beckham

5 out of 10


Stretch it like Celluloid

Few people realize that Hollywood is NOT the world`s largest film industry. India`s, often referred to as "Bollywood", produces MORE films, employs more people and has more "bums on seats" than Hollywood could ever even dream of. Regrettably, they`re all in Hindustani and their innumerable low budget pharmacy-store romances have a quality that leaves a lot to be desired. Annoyed with always standing in the shadow of their tiny Los Angeles cousin, the Bollywood crowd have long yearned of breaking out from their niche into the West, and "Bend It Like Beckham" represents just such an attempt by Gurinder Chadha.

Ingeniously, the writers have generated characters that find themselves in almost every conceivable bastion of prejudice to produce a storyline to die for: Jasbinder, or "Jess" (Parminder Nagra) is 18 year old girl who dreams of being a professional soccer player, but has everything stacked against her. Firstly, her family is part of huge, middle class Hindu community that surrounds Heathrow Airport in London, England, that remains one of the most rigid and conservative in the world, believing unswervingly that a woman`s place is by the sink. Secondly, as part of this huge minority group, she faces chronic discrimination and the jeers of "Paki" from other working class players. Thirdly, she carries a terrible physical scar on her leg from a chance accident years before, that leaves her already nervous about dressing in Soccer kit. Finally, and worst of all,the British Soccer establishment is almost unique in the world, being protected under law to exclude women from ever playing, and out of the 96 professional clubs in the League, not one has ever yet employed a woman player after nearly 200 years.

The first form of a break for Jess when her friend, Jules (Keira Knightley) persuades her to go to a selection meeting for the Houndslow Harriers, an all-women amateur team. Not surprisingly, the coach, Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Myers) is impressed with her and selects her, leaving her with the problem of how to play against the wishes of her parents. There then follows an extended process of deception as she has to fool her parents into believing that she is working at a record shop, whenever she goes to play.

If this were not complex enough, both she and Jules then become somewhat smitten by the coach, who himself has his own problems to deal with, having had an abusive father who pushed him so far, so fast in the sport that he suffered a knee injury that prevents him from playing again the sport he so loves.

In the background, the tensions steadily increase, with Jess`s sister, Pinky, proving how laughably dysfunctional and meaningless the strictures are, with her proclaiming how important Hindu values are and keenly looking forward to her marriage to some unknown arranged by her parents, whilst at the same time, sneaking out to bonk a string of lovers. Finally, Jess has the ultimate collision, she must either attend her sister`s wedding or go to the final where she could meet a selector from USA, the one country with a sizeable soccer industry where women can play professionally.

Quite brilliantly, writers mirror the constrictions of the Hindu family with those of Jules` English family, yet in the end, it is Jess`s family who turn out to be imposing the strict regime to protect their daughter, whilst, Jules` mother`s inopportune storming into Jess`s sisters wedding accusing them of "lesbianism" is as laughable prejudice as could be conceived of.

With such a superb storyline, the movie should have been a shoe-in at every award ceremony, but regrettably though, the opportunity is ruined. Firstly, as a British film, it suffers from the same usual problem, hopeless lack of cash, leaving it with only enough money to hire second rate supporting actors and actresses. With the main players aside, most of the cast shouldn`t be in acting at all. Secondly, Chadha is clearly out of her depth in the West where maybe the quality is higher. At ONE HOUR AND 52 MINUTES, the film utterly drags, strolling through the story in the most pedestrian of fashions. Backed up by banal, unimaginative camera angles and a dire lack of urgency or grip, "Bend It Like Beckham" rolls onto the screen as a cumbersome giant, a sort of "Gone With The Wind" of soccer. Likewise, the ending is scrappy, and I thought the film was about to end a dozen times, only to be surprised by yet another semi-irrelevant scene tacked on.

"Nice packaging, but where`s the meat?"

Film Critic: Robert L Thompsett