While the rest of her family adulates the image of an Indian spiritual leader, Jessminder Bhamra worships the poster above her bed of British soccer star David Beckham. With this theme, “Bend It Like Beckham” explores the issues of cultural clashing and intergenerational conflict while rarely straying from its general disposition of light-hearted comedy.

Zac Peskowitz
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Jess (Parminder Nagra) is a teenager living in London, forced into a typical teenage rebellion by her passion (and remarkable talent) for soccer and her parents’ adamant disapproval. Her traditional Indian family believes that Jess’ purpose in life consists of two main objectives: learning how to cook and marrying a nice Indian boy.

Consequently, after Jess is recruited by the equally talented Juliette (Keira Knightley) to play for an all-girls team, she packs a snowball of lies to keep her parents from discovering that she spends her days on the soccer field.

Meanwhile, her sister’s wedding complicates things further for Jess, as the plans conflict with her most important game. Nonetheless, this obligatory Indian-film inclusion sets a delightful stage for comedic encounters reminiscent of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and adds the lush visuals of traditional Indian attire to the cinematic palette.

A memorable moment during one of the celebrations finds a row of sari-clad Indian women checking their cell phones at the same time, further supporting the film’s theme of temporal and cultural transition.

A particularly entertaining subplot involves Juliette’s wacky mother, a soccer mom boasting the sentiment, “There’s a reason Sporty Spice is the only one without a boyfriend.” She adds a new misunderstanding to the heap by believing Juliette and Jess are lesbians because of a certain argument between the two.

Little does she know the argument arises over Juliette’s jealousy regarding the girls’ coach, a young Irishman, with an attraction for Jess. The execution of this love triangle, however, seems the result of a forced romantic thread that “Bend It” would be better off without.

Most of the charm lies with director Gurinder Chadha’s leading lady. Nagra is both athletic and feminine. Her skills and sincerity have the audience cheering for her, both on and off the field. Mr. and Mrs. Bhamra (Anupam Kher and Shaheen Khan respectively) are caricatures of an assimilated youth’s conventional Indian parents. Though standing between Jess and her dream, their stereotypic roles are both loving and lovable.

Jonathon Rhys-Meyers (“Velvet Goldmine”), as the attractive male coach, shares his personal sob story with Jess, desperate for a connection between the two that just doesn’t exist.

The film combines formulas of multiple genres, from the teen comedy to the sports movie, inviting a wide range of spectators. It features plenty of enjoyable humor to entertain for the full two hours. However, though “Bend It Like Beckham” is disguised as a delightful coming-of-age comedy, its production reveals an appropriate amount of substance as well.

3 Stars

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