Envision a low-budget comedy/drama about female soccer players. Now lets say it stars women of color, is directed by a woman of color, has one hell of a box office run, and is cherished by audiences across the globe. A film of such nature would, unfortunately, be considered an anomaly even today. Which is why this movie that premiered in the U.S on March 12th, 2003 is so special.
It’s 2018, and studio execs have been yearning for more women behind the camera, additional women’s stories in film, and greater diversity all around. A direction of changes that I am beyond ecstatic is taking place, but, let us not forget the stunning production that achieved all those GOALS… 15 years ago this week.
When I first saw this film, I had just turned 11 years old. Going with friends to a nearby theater, I remember thinking, “Well I’m not much of a soccer fan, and the poster looks similar to a Mary-Kate & Ashley movie that would normally go direct-to-video.” Although I was indeed a sucker for Passport to Paris and Billboard Dad, my naive, childish self couldn’t have been more wrong about the film I was set to lay eyes on next.
Directed by Gurinder Chadha and glowing with its vivid Indian culture mix, Bend It Like Beckham is an advantageously funny, observant and delightful film… centered around a type of feeling we all strive for, passion. The fact that the passion is about soccer is almost coincidental, however I must say, that in the context of the story which is wonderfully told, I surprise even myself as to how zealous I actually felt about the soccer scenes – Then and still now. With echoes from such films as American Desi (2001), which also clearly portrays the cultural clashes with Indian lifestyle and customs, we come to grips with the position Jess (Parminder Nagra) finds herself in.
While she dreams of soccer and hangs photographs of her hero David Beckham all over her wall, her traditional sari and turban-clad family, can’t comprehend why she isn’t just satisfied learning how to cook chapattis and dhal, whilst becoming a good Indian wife. Sort of like Billy Elliot, who sneaks away to ballet classes, Jess’s soccer training is her secret. As fate would have it, her much-anticipated soccer finals fall on the same day as her sister Pinky’s wedding. When scenes of the thrilling match are carefully shown adjacent the elaborate Indian wedding taking place simultaneously, the impact is a combustion of emotions. It’s an astonishing sequence that truly symbolizes the heart of the film. Here, the music is also used to grand effect, fusing both cultures while making you feel immersed in what’s happening on screen.
Bend It Like Beckham takes gratification in bending the rules, from girls playing soccer to the taboo of inter-racial relationships. It’s a colorful, upbeat and inspiring story canvassing dreams – Making it god damn impossible not to be captivated. Just like how Remember the Titans and Fever Pitch infected us with their sentimental oomph about sport, this is a film that gets you so involved with its characters you genuinely care for them.
Furthermore, the cast is incredible with outstanding performances by Nagra, who combines sensitivity with rebellion better than anybody I can remember… and Keira Knightley (only 16 years old at the time) who is stunning to watch, like an excited filly at the starting gate in Saratoga. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is appealing, as the coach for whose affections the girls vie, and Juliet Stevenson steals many scenes as Jules’ mother. In particular, I love the sequence where she gets her husband to teach her about soccer at lunch, using sea-salt, mustard and teriyaki sauce.
This was also the first English-language film for Anupam Kher (Silver Linings Playbook, The Big Sick), who had starred in over 270 Bollywood films prior to this release.
Instilled with spirit, life, and the ability to dazzle us with its exuberant inventiveness despite a triumph-over-adversity theme we’ve seen many times before. Bend It Like Beckham is the re-watch we all need – For more reasons than its goal kicking entertainment value enough to fill a stadium.
By Brandon Colón