Directed by Gurinder Chadha, starring Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anupam Kher, Archie Panjabi and Shaznay Lewis.
Following on from the breakout success of her debut feature 'Bhaji On The Beach', former BBC newsreporter Gurinder Chadha continues the fusion of British and Indian cultures and looks set to continue her rise through the ranks of British cinema directors with 'Bend It Like Beckham'. A lightweight but instantly likeable romp, this is another 'East Is East' – and like a good Indian meal, will satisfy without leaving you feeling too full.
The film follows the fortunes of soccer-mad Jess (Nagra) and Jules (Knightley). The latter's quintessentially English background proves no obstacle to her pursuit of her dream of becoming a professional footballer in the US, while Jess' Indian heritage forbids her to play competitively and forces her to settle for sporadic kickabouts in the park and daydreaming about David Beckham – in a footballing sense, of course. Football brings the girls together, and soon the two are playing for local girls' side Hounslow Harriers under the guidance of young coach Joe (Rhys Meyers). But things never run smoothly, and Jess' insistence on following her heart has drastic repercussions not only for herself, but also for her parents, her coach and Jules – not to mention her soon-to-be-married sister Pinky (Panjabi).
The short synopsis that a movie review allows doesn't do justice to the various levels on which 'Bend It Like Beckham' works. Ostensibly about one girl's struggle to overcome familial opposition to achieve her dream, the film also brings into play some of the other tried and trusted ingredients – comedy and, of course, romance. Chadra handles all of these ingredients well, while her biggest triumph lies in the performances she elicits from Knightley, and in particular the sparkling revelation that is Nagra. Elsewhere, Shaheen Khan and Bollywood veteran Anupam Kher are excellent as Jess' strict but loving parents, Juliet Stevenson is a howl as Jules' prissy mother, while only Ireland's Jonathan Rhys Meyers (eerily robotic – isn't T3 coming up?) lets the ensemble down.
There's no dramatic gravitas, no emotional punch or lasting legacy about 'Bend It Like Beckham', and this, effectively, is what gives it its winning formula. It never tries too hard to please, never deigns for obvious laughs and it always manages to keep sight of what it wants to do and how it wants to do it. It won't win the title, but it should easily qualify for Europe.