Bend It Like Beckham

Anyone can cook aloo gobi, but who can bend a ball like Beckham?

-Bend It Like Beckham

Release Date: January 18th, 2003. Dir: Gurinder Chadha

Bend It Like Beckham is the story of Jess Bahmra, an Indian girl growing up in England, who wants nothing more than to spend her days kicking a soccer ball and dreams of playing for the English national team. Born to two Punjabi parents, Jess’s life is supposed to be learning how to cook traditional Indian dinners and finding a proper Indian husband to settle down with. But, when Jules (Jess’s soon to be best friend) presents the opportunity to follow her dream, Jess is thrown into playing for the local women’s soccer team. With this team comes the opportunity to play professional soccer in America and a very handsome coach, Joe. This story is a beautiful blend of culture and personal desires that practically throws the viewer off their seat with laughter. 

It’s no secret that this is one of my favorite movies of all time. This, along with Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded By The Light are two of the movies that changed my life growing up because the main character shared the same ethnicity as me. While I’m not one to discredit a movie because the main character doesn’t have a shared history with me, I do have to say that when you can relate to a movie, it makes it much more entertaining because it’s like being privy to an inside joke. 

Speaking of inside jokes, one thing that absolutely cemented this movie is that it satirizes some traditionally Indian practices and labels them as old-fashioned. One example that comes to mind is the idea of an arranged marriage, something that has been prevalent in Indian culture since the dawn of time. Jess is sitting with her soccer team in the locker room and they’re discussing who Jess might potentially marry and she is explaining terms such as “love marriage” and talking about her parents’ expectations for her. While I’ve never been forced to consider an arranged marriage, this was something that my mom often talked about and is actually prevalent in my own family. Thankfully, their marriages have turned out to be happy ones. This movie would have been horribly inaccurate had there not been the incorporation of the Punjabi language. My own family is bilingual (though my mom and I speak a few more languages on top of Tamil and English) and we don’t just speak English or Tamil in the house. There is a mingling of the two languages that takes place in the household, especially when we’re all talking. I think that this is prevalent in any immigrant household and I liked that this was incorporated in this movie. 

In terms of the storyline, I found that the best part of this movie is the climax. Jess is standing on the field,waiting to take that free kick that will result in her team winning the championship (a bit cliche, I’ll admit). As she prepares to take that final shot, the defenders morph into her sister (whose wedding she’s missing to be at the game) and her mom, along with some aunties. The Hindi song in the background only contributes to the humour and the tension that is running through Jess’s muscles. You can feel the weight of all of the expectations settled  on her shoulders and you can feel her relieving herself with that final kick that maneuvers around the defenders and lands squarely in the net. This moment shows Jess’s final choice, though one could argue that her own subconscious made this choice earlier in the movie. 

In terms of characterization, all the characters felt exaggerated. This didn’t depend on race or socioeconomic class. Aside from the three main characters (Jess, Joe, and Jules), the surrounding cast was exaggerated to an extent that it was clear they are all meant to be satirizing stereotypes. One example of this is Jules’s mom. She is the quintessential girl’s girl and she very much wants Jules to be as well. When Jules doesn’t fall into this category, her mom automatically assumes that she’s a lesbian. This is done brilliantly because it’s a strong comparison that families with different cultures aren’t so different after all. Jess’s mom is the same way (though without the assumption that Jess is a lesbian for wanting to play soccer) and just wants her daughter to find a suitable husband and wear the ornate saris that are traidtional to Indian culture. This parallel between Jess’s and Jules’s families serve to show that despite heritage, all families have some of the same dynamics as their foundation. 

The last thing I want to touch on is Joe. Joe is the typical washed up soccer player who starts coaching and takes the team all the way to the finals. Though he is skeptical of Jess’s abilities at first, he comes to see her as vital to the team and this ultimately forms a connection between them. What I like about this budding romance is that it’s subtle and echoes the sentiment that Jess knows that it can’t go anywhere as long as he remains Irish and she remains his player. The ending for these two is very open-ended and that is what ultimately makes it one of my favorite love stories. Especially when these two finally get their moment, just as Beckham walks by. It’s the ultimate sports love story and doesn’t detract from the coming of age story that this is (though I wouldn’t classify this as a romantic comedy as the romance is very secondary to the sports/self-discovery aspects to the story). 

I can’t recommend this movie enough. The incorporation of a sport when fighting to discover yourself serves to make this a universal story. Just as coming of age movies such as Lady Bird and Booksmart incorporate universal themes with a predominantly white cast, Bend It Like Beckham serves to show that stories can be universal even if the cast is composed of people of color. This is because no matter what the color of your skin might be, everyone can appreciate that nobody can bend a ball like Beckham.

Rating: 10/10

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