THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


In America, David Beckham is best known (by those who know him at all) for being married to Victoria Adams, a.k.a. “Posh Spice.” In England, however, he’s a major soccer star – their equivalent of our Michael Jordan. The title of the import Bend It Like Beckham refers to the athlete’s ability to curve the ball, allowing for some spectacular goals. The movie has been building breakout buzz since it played at Sundance in January. By the time it opened here in central Pennsylvania, Bend It had practically been hailed as the Next Big Thing in the world of independent cinema. Which just proves that not only major Hollywood blockbusters can be the source of unearned hype. While by no means a bad movie, Bend It Like Beckham is familiar and predictable, with nothing to elevate it beyond the realm of the ordinary.

Parminder Nagra plays Jess Bhamra, an Indian teen who idolizes David Beckham. She has some soccer skills of her own, which she demonstrates to a group of male friends who play in the park. One day, she is spotted by Jules Paxton (Keira Knightley), who plays on one of England’s female soccer (or, as they call it, football) teams. Jules convinces Jess to try out, which she does successfully. Jess even starts to fall for the coach, Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), who doesn’t let their mutual attraction stop him from pushing her to her limits.

The problem is that Jess’s family is very traditional, and they don’t approve of her playing this sport. Her father, Mr. Bhamra (Anupam Kher), remembers how he once had athletic dreams, which he scrapped after being made fun of by the other players. Her mother (Shaheen Khan) simply doesn’t think sports are ladylike. Jess sneaks behind their backs to play in the games. Somehow, her parents always find out, and somehow Jess continues to find new ways to fool them.

Bend It Like Beckham is the latest movie to use a formula in which a conservative ethnic family tries to keep one of its young members from assimilating into another culture. My Big Fat Greek Wedding also used this formula, with the Greek parents getting upset that their daughter wanted to marry a non-Greek. The difference is that Wedding put a slightly different spin on that story; it dealt with the parent’s effort to adapt in order to make their daughter happy. Bend It does it more predictably – and more abruptly. Jess is forced to miss an important game because she has to attend her sister’s wedding. Somehow, you just know there will be a scene in which her father turns to her and tells her it’s all right to run off and play in her game. His about-face is explained in a nice scene later, but at the time it feels like little more than a plot contrivance.

Other elements are routine as well, including a love triangle that develops between Joe, Jess, and Jules, and a subplot involving a talent scout who may want to sign Jess to an American team. A by-the-numbers plot doesn’t necessarily constitute a bad movie, so long as the filmmakers bring spunk and energy to the proceedings. Bend It Like Beckham admittedly has some of this. There are some scenes that really work, and the message – while familiar – is still inspirational.

The problem is that the movie doesn’t have the exultant quality that allowed other British imports like The Full Monty or Billy Elliot to really lift off. Bend It Like Beckham is funny at times, but not funny enough. It has moments of warmth, but none that really made me feel all warm inside. I found it pleasant to watch, but when it was over I still found myself feeling like the film was nothing more than just okay.

( 1/2 out of four)

Bend It Like Beckham is rated PG-13 language and some sexual situations. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.

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