Bend It Like Beckham

Beckham is British soccer superstar David Beckham. “Bend it” refers to putting an effective goalie-eluding spin on the ball. And the youngster who wants to be able to bend it like Beckham in this high-spirited, egregiously warm and fuzzy concoction is Jess Bharma, the second-generation daughter of Indian immigrants.

The film is a well-crafted blend of various genres, a coming-of-age, culture-clash, generation-gap, sports movie-comedy which, judging by the reactions of the preview audience I saw it with, is destined to be a real crowd-pleaser. Beckham is being touted — and received — as funny and joyful, but to me it seemed like a simulacrum of those happy feelings. Well-oiled and hollow, its one genuine aspect is its undeniable exuberance, manifested in its eagerness to be inoffensive, likable entertainment.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but what made Beckham a mostly dreary experience for me was its prefab sense of what was amusing, the way the quaintness of Jess’ family and the unassimilated aspects her older sister’s exotically colorful “big fat Indian wedding” were offered as intrinsically funny. It’s an approach that’s less offensive than lazy, offering in lieu of wit (or for that matter, actual jokes) the spectacle of people behaving oddly, though cutely.

The movie’s dramatic core, apart from the nonstarter of whether or not Jess’ parents will come around to her desire to be a soccer player, involves her infatuation with her coach, Joe (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), which leads to conflict with her best friend, Jules (Keira Knightley). But not before that friendship has led Jules’ mother (Juliet Stevenson, slumming here with appalling gusto) to suspect that Jess and her daughter might be lesbians (ha, ha, ha — it’s that retro, folks). Though there’s an interesting dynamic here with two sets of censorious moms and sympathetic dads, but ... oh, why bother.

Pounding on a piece of fluff like this may seem unseemly, but let me get in one more kick at this puppy, then I’ll leave it be. At one point, Jess says to Joe, in reference to some hostile soccer players, “They called me Paki ...” (a derogatory Brit term for Indian and Pakistani immigrants). “You don’t know what that’s like.” To which Joe responds that, yes, he does, because he’s Irish.

The issues alluded to in this exchange are so outside the scope of the movie that what we’re left with is another cliché, reduced to the shortest of shorthand: Outsiders romantically bonding. Ain’t that sweet.


Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].