First Impressions: Ben It Like Beckham (2002)

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The Independent Culture

Two genres, the football movie and a coming-of-age comedy, are fused together in Bend It Like Beckham, with mixed but essentially crowd-pleasing results. Gurinder Chadha, the writer-director, has a reliable instinct for the operatics of family life, and in her young heroine, Parminder Nagra, she has a real find. Nagra plays Jess, a teenager in suburban Hounslow who wants to be a footballer and baulks at the tramlines of tradition her parents (Shaheen Khan, Anupam Kher) approve: a suitable husband, law school, and how to cook a perfect chapatti. When her mate Jules (Keira Knightley) recruits her for the local girls' team, dreams of an American football scholarship are suddenly within her grasp, not to mention the affections (and excellent cheekbones) of the team coach (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). It's just unfortunate that her big match coincides with her older sister's wedding day.

Chadha's generous understanding of her characters makes the film enjoyable and credible. Jess's parents, while disapproving, are no monsters of tyranny, and in her father's memory of his own cricketing career dashed by British racism there is a current of true poignancy.

What prevents the film being a complete knockout is the problem that's dogged football movies of old: the live action is simply inadequate. Despite the efforts of cameraman Jong Lin and football coach Simon Clifford, none of the actors looks at all "comfortable on the ball", and the trick editing and ellipses cannot hide it. Still, Bend It Like Beckham should do well, particularly with that title.

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