Bend it Like Beckham

Bend it Like Beckham (12)

THIS hilarious little gem should, by rights, be the movie of the spring. Whether it gets the plaudits it deserves remains to be seen but one thing is certain: it will become one of the major talking points of the 2002 movie calendar.

Written and directed by the husband and wife team of London-born Asian filmmaker Gurinder Chadha and American-born Japanese writer Paul Mayeda Berges Bend it Like Beckham is another celebration of life and cross-cultural love in the wake of Bhaji on the Beach (Chadha’s first film) and What’s Cooking?, her second.

Packed full of her trademark Anglo-Indian observational humour it chronicles the efforts of a young Hindu girl to play in an all-girl soccer team despite the objections of her parents and family.

Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) is 16 and facing a life of traditional Indian drudgery: marriage, children, cooking, more children, more cooking. With her best mate Jules (the heavenly Keira Knightley) Jess bunks off to play footie with the Hounslow Harriers whenever she can, causing her mum and dad to wonder aloud whether the girl they raised can really be their daughter.

Throw in jealousy when she and Jules both fall for team coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and the inevitable clash of cultures when Joe calls and asks Mr Bhamra (the great Indian star Anupam Kher in his ‘breakthrough’ UK movie) to be a little more lenient and one has many of the established themes that make Chadha’s movies work so well.

Chadha’s grasp of what makes a feelgood film is her inherent knack of making her own culture appear so completely wacky. The Indians in Chadha’s films are split into three types: kooky pensioners who have a wicked sense of humour but who toe the traditional line; blinkered traditionalists who can’t accept change of any sort; and the heroes or heroines who want more than a limited future and challenge familial obligations to get it.

All are present in Bend it Like Beckham (the title comes from Jess’s ability to bend a football like David Beckham) and all work exceedingly well.

Full marks to Chadha to discovering Nagra, a beautiful and effortless new star who, given the paucity of Anglo-Asian leading ingenues in the UK, is guaranteed of a bright future.

Throw in familiar faces like Kulvinder (Goodness Gracious Me) Ghir, Archie (East is East) Punjabi and ex-All Saints singer Shaznay Lewis and this peculiar cast shines as much for the eccentricity of its casting as for the triumph of its construction.

Make no mistake, Bend it Like Beckham is a great film. For a start it’s laugh-out-loud funny (not least for Juliet Stevenson’s inspired performances as Jules’s ageing Essex Girl mother, convinced her soccer-mad daughter is a lesbian with a thing for young Hindu girls); it also showcases two of the UK’s sweetest young actresses in Nagra and Knightley, with both teenagers delivering comfortable and assured performances.

Such an ensemble cast (gruff Londoner Frank Harper even pops up as Jules’s dad) means the story occasionally appears over-populated but Chadha never loses the threads of the plot.

The gags flow easily and every performance is measured. It’s a testament to Chadha, Berges, co-writer Guljit Bindra and the excellent cast that this one works so well on all levels.

Britain needs this type of comedy more than it needs overblown Hollywood blockbusters and navel-gazing European arthouse fare. If you want to laugh yourself silly, see this. That’s all there is to say, really.

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