Bend It Like Beckham (12)

Review by James Raffoul

AFTER entering the cinema with no preconceptions, other than the fact that this had something to do with football, I re-emerged with the feeling that this is one of the most enjoyable British films you are likely to see, coupled together with a slight Punjab and Sikh influence.

The film follows the story of Jess, superbly and realistically played by Parminder Nagra, and her dream to follow in the footsteps of her superstar idol, the one and only (and currently injured), Mr/Sir/Lord David Beckham.

(How fitting that in the week of the film's release, the star around which the movie is titled becomes injured and his foot claims nearly as much nationwide column space as the Queen Mother's passing. I don't mind it, though, as I'm on the bandwagon - he's a god and there really is only one David Beckham. Sorry, straying from the storyline there, but it's World Cup warm-up time and it's hard not to, as it only comes round once every four years….. there I go again - cut it out, ed!!!)

Jess lives at home with her parents, doesn't smoke, drink or go out partying, she studies hard and is a devoutly religious girl who respects her parents' beliefs, even accepting the responsibility of looking after her soon-to-be-wed sister. Until it comes to football, that is. For Jess is, quite literally, mad for it and will do anything to have a kick around.

And it is this aspect of her life that the film concentrates on as the young student (Nagra is actually 26) rises from park football obscurity to local semi-pro fame and further still.

Her almost comical mother wishes her not to play this disruptive 'English' game and concentrate instead on knocking up the finest Aloo Gobi in all of Hounslow.

The family life is superbly portrayed by director Gurinder Chadha and is done wholly in good taste. The central family is the archetypal Punjab family and Chadha has absolutely no problems with sending up the stiffness of some aspects of the Punjabi life-style. There are several in-jokes for all to see, and once spotted, it becomes even funnier.

And while Chadha's depiction of the family life should be admired, soo too should her attention to detail, particularly in the football scenes. Normally, when watching a film that centres around a sport (especially football), action scenes become part of the film's downfall, seldom looking realistic (as in the case of someone taking on about 20 players and still managing to score with an overhead kick!). This isn't the case in Bend It Like Beckham, in which realistic shots are produced, fouls look like they have been committed and goals scored by the person who kicked the ball, without the aid of spectacular camera angles or digital imagery.

Jess is noticed playing park football with her male friends by Julie (Keira Knightley, pictured right with All Saints' Shaznay Lewis), the current star striker of the local team, Hounslow Harriers and, as a result, goes down to training, impresses the coach and soon becomes a regular fixture in the squad.

But as her career develops against the wishes of her parents, Jess is forced to sneak around and things becomes increasingly risky when she finds herself becoming attracted to her coach, who happens to be a gundi (white and of western descent) - a romance which eventually leads to a rift with Julie (who also likes the coach) following a drunken tour night in Hamburg.

While Chadha's film raises issues of race (one scene is particularly moving) and how Western attitudes can create divides in strict households, it is also contrasted nicely with some small send-ups at their own characterization, including the way in which Jess's room has been turned into a shrine to David Beckham, and the fact that she would rather buy an expensive pair of football boots rather than a pair of shoes to go with the Sari her mother has chosen for her.

Shot largely in Hounslow and Twickenham, this is as good a British film as you are likely to see this year. Funny, sensitive, thoughtful and innovative, for me this rates up there with Four Weddings and The Full Monty. It has even been given the gold-plated seal of approval from Mr & Mrs Beckham, who were unable to appear because of clashing work schedules, despite volunteering (the people you see in the film are professional look-alikes).

Inevitably, there is a certain amount of predictability to proceedings, but go with it and you'll come out grinning from ear to ear. Chadha has produced a brilliantly scripted, endlessly re-watchable, feel-good movie, that should be successful, largely thanks to some good marketing and its timely release just before the World Cup. Let's just hope the real David Beckham gets fit soon.