Unnecessary Movie Review: Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

In which I finally watch a DVD I’ve owned for years, long after doing so could have any meaning.

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Why’d I Buy It?

I was on an aeroplane probably in 2003 and this was the movie. Headphones had just recently become a thing you had to pay for, and in response I had adopted a righteously indignant policy of refusing them.  So I did other things while the movie played. However, I did turn it on partway through, and every 5-10 minutes I looked up and watched 2-4 minutes without sound. I started to regret my audio policy. The movie looked charming! So I decided that some day, I would watch it for real. I have no recollection of buying the DVD, but I’m sure I scooped it up in the ballpark of 2008-2012 to get one of 20/20 Video’s “5 for $20” deals.

Why’d I Never Watch It?

It’s a movie about girls who are 17 and I am incredibly old (I voted for Coolidge). Also the fact that the movie looked charming worked against it. I will watch an obviously, heinously stupid movie if there is probably a monster or spaceship in it, but it takes a real “exception to the rule” to get me to sit down for a charmer.

Now, thanks to Casey’s bittersweet recall of lost innocence, I know the full story of what I’ve been missing.

This movie is charming. Let’s get that out of the way: it is every ounce of charming I thought it would be. And it is simple: all the events that occur in this movie can be summed up in 10 words without losing one iota of its emotional drive or plot. “English girl plays soccer against her traditional Indian family’s wishes.” Boom, 10 words! And I liked that about it. Not every movie needs to be complicated.

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We meet Jesminder (Parminder Nagra) who loves playing soccer (I am going to call it soccer throughout this post, so please adjust your expectations downward if you are reading this from England or, basically, anywhere except America). Her family is a traditional Indian family, and as such they are given to issuing edicts like, “Don’t wear shorts in public for one thing.” This means they are not big supporters of her interest in playing soccer.  In fact she has to keep it a secret.

Her family is the most fun thing the movie does. The actors who play her mom and dad seem to be having a great time playing Parents Just Don’t Understand (India Remix). They’re the villains and they’re funny and they’re her loving family, all at once. It is pretty fantastic. Also, the movie pulls off something tricky: it makes you root for Jess to break out of (or add soccer to?) the All-India-All-Day life they want her to carry on, but it never makes that life look wrong, ridiculous, or outmoded. It is obviously viable and vital for the immigrant parents – just not 100% right for the kids.  The plot of this movie is stupid simple, but that’s not.  So, nice job, movie.

The second most fun thing here is soccer.  I feel like that is a flaw!  The soccering parts should be funner.  I mean, they’re pretty good! But there’s only a few game and practice scenes, they’re brief, they don’t showcase a lot of moves, and they are all done as montages set to inexpensive-sounding songs. This movie is montage- and affordable-music-intensive. At one point there is only a two-minute break between montages. Okay, movie, do your thing, I guess!

Actually, we can sum up the plot using a montage. Let’s do that. Cue up an appropriate song (I suggest “She’s a Lady,” but not the version by legend Tom Jones. Try the version by Austin Howard instead, like movie did!) and play that as you scroll through these screengrabs…

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There is a not-too-engrossing subplot revolving around Jess’s sister’s approaching marriage.  At some point, the wedding is canceled due to a misunderstanding, which is: the groom’s parents spot Jess with Jules, and because Jules has short hair they think she is a boy.  And that Jess is making out with him. So — scandal! — they won’t wed their son into our degenerate protagonist’s family. Observe:

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But at least her fam doesn’t know Jess is sneaking around playing soccer with Jules.  There’d be real trouble then…

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Sigh.  Here, Jules’ mom overhears and misunderstands Jess trying to apologize for semi-kissing the coach (who Jules liked first).  Eavesdroppin’ mom thinks Jules and Jess had a lesbian affair and are breaking up, lolololol infinity ugh.  See, she was already nervous because Jules plays sports instead of chasing boys, and now her worst fears are confirmed!  Oy.  (ALTHOUGH, I have to admit, when I watched this with the sound off eons ago on the aeroplane, I thought Keira Knightley’s Jules was a little lesbianical, and was expecting an awkward moment when she made a play for Jess.  So, as ridiculous as this subplot is with the sound on, I’m kind of right there with ya, Jules’ dumb mom!)  Anyway this lesbian-suspicion plot has been percolating sporadically throughout and will boil over later.

But for now, Jess’s sister’s wedding is back on!   Except its new date is the same day as the final soccer match. The American scout will be at the final, so if Jess misses it, her father tells her she will grow up to be a “solicitor” (probably English slang for “barrister,” which judging by the root “barr” is one who… picks berries?  doesn’t matter) instead of a pro athlete (more fun than whatever the other thing is, for sure). Also, Jules doesn’t play as well without Jess, so it trashes her future too if Jess goes to the stupid traditional wedding.  Which Jess does go to.  And she mopes all the way through  it.

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She gets there in time for the second half.

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There is a nonsensical series of match-cuts from the game to the wedding?  It gets a little Rachel At The Wedding, we spend so much time watching the dancing there, and it doesn’t really make sense to cut back and forth.  “We didn’t really have great soccer footage, but we had 90 hours of wedding footage so we used that to save the movie” is how I took it?  Anyway it didn’t work.  And then after the game we finally conclude the whole lesbian gag, Keira Knightley sort of overly serious about it, but her mother a disaster beyond belief.  Let’s mostly skip that bit, it’s cringeworthy.

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Hurrah: the scout offers Jess and Jules soccer scholarships to Santa Clara, the premier lady soccer college in the universe.  The end of this movie takes a long time. Jess goes to make out with coach again, but then changes her mind, but then he shows up to make a romantic speech at the aeroport as she is leaving for California. Finally they kiss (“snog”) for real, but as they do, her traditional parents are distracted and don’t see it happen — because at that exact moment David Beckham walks by, behind some glass, on an elevated walkway, way down at the end of the hall.  They crane to see.  Cameo magic! (Who even knows if they got the real Becks, he is so far away)

Super cheesy music plays over a closing montage of mail arriving from America, sister pregnant, dad inspired by his daughter to get back into playing cricket.

And there you have it.  Fun, with a little cheese.  But also a couple of weird questions, like, for one, Really, the whole goal of the movie is to get Jess and Jules the hell out of England and over to America?  If they stay in England, their lives are over?  Of course we all know (thanks to the Sex Pistols) that in the UK there is No Future.  And we also know that in America there is No Future But What We Make (thanks to The Terminator!).  But “Ditch the UK, you can do better elsewhere”?  That is a weird endpoint for an English movie that A) is English and B) has taken great pains to be partly about twentieth-century England becoming twenty-first-century England.  And yeah, that is what this movie is about, even if it is also about girls who are friends having fun.

But this movie definitely is about girls who are friends.  To such an extent that there’s no real boy in it except Coach Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Sure, he’s a major plot point! Jess and Jules both luuurv him! Who will get him?? The main star or the other girl??? But he’s not really there, except in the sense that he stands around looking like the director said, “Uh, you — I guess just smolder. Quietly?” In one scene he is overly difficult; in a few others he is supportive. He is basically the girl love interest in one thousand movies where two guys battle it out and in the end she picks the main hero and the secondary hero doesn’t let it ruin the friendship because friendship is the most important thing, not girls. Except, not guys, in this case. Girl Power! Does Jess even really care that she wins JRM? He is really, really not her main thing.  And that is cool.

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Closing Argument

This movie glosses over some stuff.  Like why does the wedding get called off, only to get called back on?  No one really suffers any consequences.  Which, okay, it’s a comedy.  But how about Jess’s leg burns? One of her legs is very scarred and for one scene she is paralyzed by anxiety about wearing shorts for the first time in her life.  Coach tells her not to be. AND THAT SETTLES THAT. This is probably a good message for girls who are worried about body image? I dunno.  I’m not a lady so I am basically fearless in all ways (except w/r/t heights, cancer, basements, dirt, failure, success, rabies, and commitment) so to ME, it seems weird to give a character a trait that is a showstopper for 40 seconds of the movie and then has zero impact on anything for the other 1 hour, 53 minutes, and 20 seconds.

Gavel Bang!  Rank It!

This movie glides past many of my defenses and ends up planting itself in the back of the net at #209 on the Ranked List.  Not bad!  That’s right after another womanly work of art, Bridesmaids, and right before One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which has only one woman in it but she figures prominently (as a nightmare).  I award this movie Two goals against Germany, which is more than can be said for most teams movies.

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About hotspur

hotspur is the videogum name of Luke Rooney, who usually makes the Kessel Run in 17 or 18 parsecs because, like, what is the rush? We will get to Kessel when we get to Kessel, just sit down and enjoy the run for chrissakes.
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25 Responses to Unnecessary Movie Review: Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

  1. I love this movie! But I definitely agree with a few of your quibbles, namely: 1) seriously, since Jess’s scars are pretty much completely glossed over, why were they necessary at all? Wouldn’t the fact that she’s not supposed to wear shorts for modesty reasons be enough to make her self-conscious? 2) Apparently Jess and Jules really were supposed to get romantically involved in the original script, and, as good as Johnathan Rhys Meyers looks in this film (VERY good), that would’ve made way more sense. I’m always for movies about female friendship, but it definitely seemed like some studio higher-up decided “Wait, a fun, lighthearted movie, aimed at teens, with a gay romance? Nope, can’t have that, stick a hetero makeout in there” and 3) the lack of many actual soccer scenes, although I think that might be because even though the actors clearly practiced, their skills were probably still fairly limited compared to actual soccer players, so there’s only so much they could show.

    ANYWAY. Still love it. ❤

    • catweazle says:

      The thing with the leg burns was shoehorned in because Parminder Nagra actually does have leg burns and I guess they thought they had to talk about it so the audience wouldn’t be like “What the fuck is up with her leg” the whole time.

    • mordonez says:

      Not to be a creeper, but you would think that (with the exception that nobody knew who she was), a “Keira Knightly snogs a girl” scene would have been box office gold, so that seems like a weird choice? Like, let us suppose that this movie came out immediately post Harry Potter, and starred Emma Watson instead of baby Keira. The lesbian angle is totally still in the picture, right?

      Also, I recall enjoying this when it came out, but I wanted to see shot after shot of people bending soccer balls around walls of defenders, because it always looks like magic.

      • Eh, the industry is still pretty squeamish about making making mainstream films featuring non-hetero romances unless they’re presented as tragic or “scandalous” in some way–and firmly aimed at adults. It would be awesome to see a cute teen romantic comedy featuring two young actresses (or two actors), but that would probably have a hard time finding funding now, let alone twelve years ago when this was made.

      • You’re forgetting that Keira wasn’t a household name yet, so it wouldn’t have been as much of a draw. Maybe? Probably still a draw.

  2. flanny says:

    I haven’t seen this movie in forever, but I liked it when I watched it. I also want to say that the soundtrack was pretty much on a loop when I was writing my senior thesis (gentlemen??) especially the follow track.

    What a jam! (slang)

  3. catweazle says:

    Love this movie! Excess of montages and all! Could do without the “OMG lesbians” shit but what can you do. Love baby Keira Knightley being terrible at acting. I haven’t watched it in a while because I’m scared I won’t love it as much since my passion for Jonathan Rhys Meyers has cooled over the years and also I always end up watching Bride and Prejudice (Gurinder Chadha’s next movie) instead because it is perfect and wonderful and also features Elijah from The Vampire Diaries.

    • old man fatima says:

      I rented Bride and Prejudice AND Pride and Prejudice once to make a night of it, and the checkout person at Blockbuster had to check three times to make sure I wasn’t just renting two copies of the same movie. First of all, what’s it to you if I am? Maybe I like watching things in stereo? Second, you’d think once would be enough?

      • Casey says:

        “Hang on here, hang on here. I realize that a keyword in both the titles is spelled differently and that when I scan them they have different barcodes and everything, and hell, the synopses on the backs of the cases sound like they are describing completely different films, but before I *allow* you to leave this establishment with these tapes I will need to run a series of tests.”

  4. old man fatima says:

    I think the point of going to the US is that the US and Canada are really the only countries who fund women’s sports heavily enough to make them viable career options.

    Also, I think my mom also recently saw this movie because she has said that someone needs to “bend it like Beckham” at least 3 times in every game we have seen this cup and that’s not something I have ever heard her say before (and she plays on two soccer teams and is also a coach, so it’s not insane that I would have heard her say it).

  5. Erika says:

    Solicitors and barristers are two different kinds of lawyers in the UK. I’m kind of embarrassed that I don’t exactly know the difference since it’s basically my job to know, but, going from what little I’ve heard, solicitors are a more common form of lawyer, the type consumers go to directly to hire for a case; barristers are more special for some reason. I like to imagine that barristers are the ones who have to wear those stupid powdered wigs, but I’m sure I just made that up.

    • Erika says:

      Also, if you liked this movie, you might also like Bride and Prejudice which is by the same director.

    • old man fatima says:

      I always thought barristers had been called to the bar, but that doesn’t make sense because don’t all lawyers need to pass the bar? And from what I understand of “solicitation”, a solicitor would be a legal salesperson? I have no idea. That’s what the words suggest to me, anyway.

  6. Casey says:

    I’ll tell you a movie that has two goals against Germany, a little Academy Award winner called the US of Effing A!

  7. flanny says:

    Is that Pauley Shore up there saddened by Brazil’s loss?

    • hotspur says:

      Paulo Costa.

    • Casey says:

      “Germany is wheezing my juice!”

    • flanny says:

      Both of these comments are exactly what I wanted.

    • Wallflower says:

      It’s really weird that Pauly Shore is being mentioned today because I was just talking about him last night. Apparently, he was in my town a loooong time ago at some Comedy Club and a guy friend of mine worked there and he basically had to stand guard while Pauly and some girl hmmm…how do I say this…..well, they did something sexual in a room with no cameras but also no lock so my friend had to make sure no one went in.

  8. Wallflower says:

    I kind of forgot Keira Knightley was in this movie. In my head I was thinking it was the girl from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants that plays soccer. There is a girl that plays soccer in that movie right? OH wait, it’s coming back to me. It’s Blake Lively.

  9. martinmegz says:

    I love this review.

  10. mydumbopiniongoeshere says:

    The one thing I seem to remember about this movie is that the ads and previews had them all saying “soccer” over and over again, and I was like “huh, wouldn’t they say football?”

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