May 5th, 2003


Bend It...

I saw Bend It Like Beckham the other night, and enjoyed it quite a lot. Not that it's a great movie; that's rather beside the point. What makes it worth seeing is the enthusiasm and attractiveness of the two female leads -- Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightly. They're both, as they say, easy on the eyes, but more than that they seem to convey the sort of wide-eyed innocent manic enthusiasm for soccer in a way that's contagious for the viewer.

Like 'Monsoon Wedding,' the writer/producer/director Gurinder Chadra is essentially making a love letter to their Indian families and culture in collision with Western values. That is the most genuinely felt part of both movies -- well, in "Beckham" the soccer mania is genuine. Everything else seems a bit stagey; moreso for "Beckham" because it works with a smaller cast and simpler concept.

High points are 1) Jess' (the Indian girl) father, who plays very subtly for the most part. Too bad his beard looks fake and seems to change color as the movie progresses. 2) Juliet Stevenson as Jules' (the Anglo girl) mom is quite comic without going completely over the top -- her complete misapprehension of her daughter throughout the movie is hilarious, and her middle-aged cleavage is like a separate character in the scenes she's in. 3) Keira Knightly as Jules. She's built more like a supermodel than a soccer player, all long arms and legs, but somehow she makes the character work. She'll no doubt get plenty of work after this movie. 4) The Sikh Wedding. As 'Monsoon Wedding' proved, nothing beats an Indian Wedding for over-the-top colorful imagery. 5) The soundtrack. I think that Indian pop music is ready to make a splash here in the states; it's more pop than pop, it's exotic, it's got a beat and you can dance to it! 6) The jets. Don't know which London airport they're supposed to be close to, but it reminds me of Des Plaines and Park Ridge near O'Hare. They must have shot it somewhere far from the town where it's set, because it would be a nightmare recording dialog with the damn jets going over every few minutes.

Low Points 1) The after-school special plot. There's Family Conflict, Culture Clash, and Rah-Rah Sportsmanship. It's all connected together with broad crayon arrows. 2) Jess' Mom, who spends the whole movie talking about cooking. No one could be that one-dimensional. 3) The romance between Jess and Joe (her coach) -- it serves the plot (see 1) but it's rather beside the point, and seems pasted on as a hook for subteen girls, who I guess are this movie's real target audience.

So really, it's a pretty dumb movie, but completely enjoyable from start to finish. Which is better -- a dumb movie that entertains and makes you feel good, or a smart movie that feels as dreary and hopeless as real life? As for the Low Points, they're something that struck me after the movie was over. If you're willing to suspend disbelief for a couple of hours, it's great fun.