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A surprise sleeper hit this year was Bend it like Beckham. Spawned from the comic writing and directorial talents of Gurinder Chadha who also is responsible for amongst others, 1993’s Bhaji on the Beach. Filmed mostly on location in Southall and Hayes, this is a story of one Indian girl’s obsession with football.

Bend it like Beckham
The Film
Jesminder or Jess (Parminder Nagra) is football mad and not only that, but David Beckham mad. She worships the man and has almost a shrine to him with pictures all over her wall. Her parents disapprove obviously as she is supposed to be a good Indian girl and learn to cook and be a good wife, not stick balls into the back of the net. While having a kick about in the park with the boys she is seen by Jules (Keira Knightley) and asked to play on the local team – the Hounslow Harriers. Here is going to be a shock for a lot of “lads”. The next scene sees the girls football team doing a few tricks and shots and they can really play. When Jess’ parents find out they are furious, particularly her mother. They are not happy with Jess playing football as it can easily bring shame to the family. Jess’ sister Pinky is soon to be married and anything like this becoming public news would be sure to cause the wedding to be cancelled.

Jess and Jules concoct a plan to keep Jess playing without her parents knowing. Jules gives Jess a fictional job at HMV which enables her to get out and train and play with the team. There is a great few minutes of the girls training, playing a game and winning the match. After going shopping with Jules, Jess gets her first pair of football boots. These are not just any boots either, but David Beckham’s recommended brand. When the parents find them, they go spare. However Jess is defiant and secretly continues her passion. The parents of Pinky’s future husband see Jess and Jules waiting at a bus stop laughing and falling over each other at something. Since Juliet has short hair and they do not see her face they assume she is actually a boy. Not just a boy, but an “English” boy. After all four parents discuss the situation, the wedding is called off as the Bhamra family are in disgrace and Pinky is distraught. Even when Jess explains that it was just Jules, the damage has already been done.

Bend it like Beckham
The coach for the team is Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who plays Joe. He has a soft Irish accent and trains and instructs the girls well. When Jess is barred properly from going to play and train, he visits her parents’ house to see if he can reason with them. They are tireless in their defiance and he leaves with no result. The team get an offer to play in Germany and Pinky covers for Jess as her and the team travel to play.  Joe falls for Jess, and her likewise. There are two problems with this. He is not Indian, and Juliet is also in love with him. There are a lot of “J” names here and so I am hoping you are following this.  When Jules finds out about this, she stops talking to Jess. Jules’ mum, played by Juliet Stevenson, then decides they are a lesbian couple and that they have had a lovers tiff. Stevenson is great in this role. She is slightly racist, but only in her perceptions of the Indian race which are very “sheltered middle class” views. These are mirrored in her thoughts of lesbians and how lesbians are “fine”, but not it seems, in her family. The line to Jess, “I cooked a lovely curry the other night” had me in stitches. Her comic timing is excellent, as is that of Jess’ parents and Pinky. Some of the racial observations are brilliant, verging on the Ali G formula. Pinky’s repeated use of the word “innit” is hilarious and Shaheen Khan (Mrs Bhamra) is outstanding as the stereotypical overbearing and flamboyant Indian mother.

The film progresses with the miserable Jess wanting to play football and Jules not speaking to her. It expands on several relationships such as Jess’ with one of her male Indian friends, and leads up to the wedding being on again with the planning and many many traditional celebrations associated with this, wrapping Jess up so that she has no time for football even if she wanted to play it. Of course this is a feel good film and eventually Jess manages to get a game in, impressing her once so rigid father and this is wonderful. The film is brilliantly funny, however some of the humour is very British and I doubt would be understood abroad, but for people in the UK, I would say this is a must see. A lot of people have compared it to East is East for its fantastic humour; however I think this easily surpasses that film (which I was not a great fan of). The acting is excellent, and even the girls football team do a fine job (especially since they are footballers and not actors). The only non-footballers on the team are Jess, Jules and Shaznay Lewis from the pop-tastic All Saints. Trained by a Brazilian coach, the girls are all excellent footballers and when the film depicts how massive woman’s football is in the USA, it really does make you wonder why it is not so huge here. However, that is another story altogether.

Bend it like Beckham
Video
Presented in 1.85:1 and enhanced for 16x9 televisions, this print is surprisingly good for what was essentially a low budget British production. With a lot of shots outside in the sun, colours are vibrant and lush with good detail levels. It looks very British with the colour levels and normal skin tones present, not always associated with American productions. One or two artefacts appear but they are so few you would blink and miss them. The average bit rate is very high and it does show on what is quite an impressive transfer.

Audio
The only soundtrack available is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and it is good. The music features heavily in this film and it certainly pumps out of the speakers. This is done to good affect and the surround speakers are used well. The music is a mix of pop music, Indian covers of famous songs and more traditional Indian music interlaced with a more chart inspired beat. It’s a lively mix, and yet the vocals are such that they are at a level where they are easily audible. Particularly towards the end of the film when the football match and the wedding are shot together, the music is mixed together excellently to accommodate both scenes.

Bend it like Beckham
Extras
The audio commentary seems like a good place to start as any and it is quite involved. It features the director and writer, and the other co-writers. They muse about the some 280 Bollywood films that Anupam Kher (Jess’ father) has starred in and about the Brazilian trainer who helped the girls become such football stars. They also point out the girls which are actual football players for the likes of QPR and Slough. Parminder Nagra (Jess) has a large scar on her right leg and this is discussed between Jess and Joe. The story in the film is actually how the scar happened. Basically her trousers ended up catching on fire when she was young and her mother was out. She was placed in a bath of cold water and the water caused the trousers to stick to her leg. When they were removed, they took a lot of the skin with them. It is not a nice story, but the actor was worried that she was not going to get the part because of it (being seen in shorts for a large part of the film). It is a testament to her acting capabilities that instead of not let her have the part, it was written in to the script to accommodate this. There is a Behind the Scenes featurette that runs for fifteen minutes in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, mirroring that of the feature presentation. Some decent interviews with the main cast and director, who talk frankly about the picture, make this decent viewing, unlike the so called Behind the Scenes featurettes that can be found on American discs which are essentially promo material made for TV. Lastly there are ten deleted scenes which come it at just under fifteen minutes. It’s a shame that these do not come with an optional commentary as it would have been interesting to know why some of them were removed. There is an interesting and fun extra in which the director shows us how to actually cook Aloo Gobi, so it is one of the more educational DVDs I have seen. Just in case you didn’t know Aloo means potato and Gobi means cauliflower. It is actually quite funny so see her mother and auntie constantly contradict her and suggest better ways to do things while she is cooking. It lasts fifteen minutes and by the end we are all going to be Indian culinary experts. In case you miss any of this, then there is also an extra which is six pages of text telling the enthusiastic wannabe chef how to cook this delightful dish. It is funny so see these two ladies during a few of the menu transitions, moaning about Gurinder and how she is making them walk around when they are tired. There is a music video for the Indian version of “Felling hot, hot, hot” followed by two people impersonating the Beckhams who both show about as much combined brain power as a sack of potatoes – they are truly excellent impersonators. Rounding off the extras are two trailers for the film. For some reason there is only one option for these and they play sequentially. A reasonable amount of extras overall then; however the “How to Cook” was a clear winner, for me at least.

Bend it like Beckham
Overall
If you haven’t already guessed I really enjoyed this film, as did my friends. It crosses both cultures brilliantly with a style of humour that is quintessentially British in a way that only an Indian director and writer could do. The acting is great and the film is presented very well indeed. A relatively unknown cast with many of the extra cast made up of the director’s family and friends could have meant that the acting would be of a low quality, however, it is not. It is easy to see why this topped the UK box office for several weeks back in April 2002 when it was released.


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