Parminder K. Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Anupam Kher, Archie Panjabi, Shaznay Lewis, Frank Harper, Juliet Stevenson, Shaheen Khan
Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges, Guljit Bindra
Sometimes, to follow your dreams ... you've got to bend the rules!
A young girl is torn between adhering to family traditions and attaining super stardom on the soccer field.
Budget $5.5 million.
$161.528 thousand on 6 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
Runtime: 112 min.
Release Date: 9/30/2003
• Audio Commentary with Director Gurinder Chadha and Co-writer Paul Mayeda Berges
• 10 Deleted/Extended Scenes
• “The Making of Bend It Like Beckham” Featurette
• “Who Wants to Cook Aloo Gobi?” Featurette
• Aloo Gobi Recipe
• Music Video
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 9, 2003)
Since success is relative, 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham qualified as a hit. The British import made a mere $28 million in the US, but given its miniscule budget of about five and a half million dollars, that’d be a nice piece of change even if it didn’t earn any money elsewhere. (Beckham snagged $18 million in the UK alone.) The movie received very positive buzz in the States and turned into a modest little sleeper.
With all those positive vibes, I expected to like Beckham. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for the final result, which seemed like little more than some warmed over semi-inspirational claptrap.
Beckham focuses on 18-year-old Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra), an Indian girl who lives with her family in London. Her very feminine sister Pinky (Archie Panjabi) is getting married, and that endeavor fills much of the family’s time. Jess is more of a tomboy; she obsesses over soccer and idolizes Manchester United’s star player David Beckham.
Jess wants to play soccer but her mother (Shaheen Khan) frowns on this. She does so in the park but gets an opportunity to play on a higher level when Jules (Keira Knightley) sees her talents. Jules undergoes pressures to become more feminine herself, as her mother (Juliet Stevenson) pushes her to wear push-up bras and flaunt her beauty more strongly.
Surreptitiously, Jess joins the Hounslow Harriers, where she meets the cute young coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). Basically the rest of the film follows her ups and downs with the squad. She succeeds on the field but runs into a love triangle when both she and Jules display romantic feelings toward Joe. In addition, Jess has to deal with the issues related to her family and their lack of support for her choices.
I always suspected that many critics embraced trite nonsense if it was a) made independently, b) created in non-US market, or c) both. The success of Bend It Like Beckham proves me correct. The film received terrific notices that made it out to be fresh, spirited and inspirational. Unfortunately, it fails on all those accounts.
Beckham can be summed up with two clichés: “follow your heart” and “girl power!” It feels dated, like it was made during the peak of the Spice Girls career. No, it wouldn’t have been more original in 1998 than in 2003, but at least it’d have made more sense within that era’s popular climate. Heck, the movie even features a reference to Sporty and two songs from her solo efforts. (Of course, Posh Spice turns up marginally as well, but this makes sense since Victoria’s married to Beckham in real life.)
During the DVD’s audio commentary, we learn that Beckham indeed was written way back in the Era of Spice, so maybe the film’s tone isn’t so odd after all. Even with that understanding, though, the flick still doesn’t work. The movie trades in thin clichés and doesn’t have much new to offer. Frankly, I think that if a major US studio produced Beckham, the critics would have lambasted it. Only because it snuck under the radar did it garner such support.
Actually, the inclusion of a non-traditional heroine probably helped. Most US audiences don’t see flicks with Indian leads, so Beckham earns some points for its casting and attempts to relate the experiences of that culture. The best parts of the film do let us inside the family life of Indians in England, and those moments help elaborate on the challenges dealt with by minority cultures.
Unfortunately, Beckham wraps those nice parts inside a very stale package. The film seems incredibly predictable and features characters with little breadth or depth. Is there ever any real question what will happen to Jess? Does she – or any of the participants – ever feel more like a thin sketch of a personality? The film really pours on the disapproving ways of the culture to get us to bond with Jess, but it doesn’t work. To be sure, we don’t dislike her, but we never find much reason to identify with her or care about her either.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that the film tries to pack in way too much material. It confronts sexism, racism, and a number of other issues. The flick deals with all of them superficially and never provides much exploration of any sides. It’s a knee-jerk film that wants us to totally embrace its point of view – girl power! follow your dreams! – and dismiss the others.
Beckham doesn’t have an original bone in its body, and that also mars the flick. Director Gurinder Chadha packs the movie with musical montages, and these grow old exceedingly quickly. I took notes as I watched Beckham; over and over I wrote “not another [expletive deleted] montage!” Musical montages are crutches used by filmmakers without much to say. They’re an easy way to fill in plot gaps and create the illusion of energy and fun. Sometimes they’re justified and work well, but too often they substitute for more coherent story telling. That occurs in Beckham, as Chadha pours on montages in lieu of real plot or exposition.
In the end, Bend It Like Beckham provides little more than a stale soap opera inflected with trite self-esteem-boosting clichés. It even ends with a cutesy singalong sequence that feels lifted straight from a Farrelly brothers flick. Other than its non-traditional heroine, nothing about Beckham strikes me as original or creative, and the excessively long film gets mired down by its absence of inspiration. Since the movie includes many semi-autobiographical moments, Chadha could have created something moving and informative, but instead we just get a dopey and unoriginal farce.
The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus B
Bend It Like Beckham appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite the film’s low-budget origins, the picture seemed very good.
Sharpness mostly looked solid. A few wide shots displayed a smidgen of softness, but those examples occurred infrequently. The majority of the flick appeared crisp and detailed. I noticed no problems connected to jagged edges or shimmering, but some light edge enhancement showed up occasionally. In regard to print flaws, I saw no problems. The movie looked clean and free from defects.
Especially since so much of the film took place in the daytime, the colors of Beckham seemed terrific. The hues consistently came across as nicely bright and dynamic. I witnessed no issues related to bleeding, noise, or other concerns. Tones looked especially terrific in the wedding scenes, as the traditional outfits lit up the screen. Black levels seemed dense and well defined, and low-light shots came across well. The nighttime games were slightly flat, and the lighting sometimes didn’t flatter darker skinned actors; they were a little tougher to make out than they should have been. Otherwise shadows appeared fine. Overall, the image of Beckham was positive.
Although I didn’t expect a lot from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Bend It Like Beckham, the audio seemed surprisingly involving. The soundfield didn’t present a terribly exciting piece, but it worked well and was more vivid than I anticipated. Music showed nice stereo imaging, and effects helped create a fairly natural setting. Most of the material stayed in the realm of general ambience such as passing vehicles and tweeting birds in outdoors scenes.
Some of the soccer sequences helped add life to the program, and those offered the majority of the noticeable surround usage. Some clips featured the exaggerated sound of a ball from front to rear and vice versa, and the matches gave us pretty good atmospherics. The soundfield never seemed amazing, but it complemented the material well.
Audio quality was positive. The only concerns I noted connected to speech came from the accents. Occasionally I found it tough to understand what the actors said, but this didn’t relate to the recordings. Dialogue was natural and without edginess issues. Music lacked the range I’d expect and seemed a little restricted at times, but the songs mostly appeared bright and vivid. Effects were clean and distinctive, and I noticed no problems with distortion or other areas. Bass response was generally quite good, especially in the shots with the exaggerated ball sound; the kicks resonated unrealistically but effectively. Again, nothing about the sound of Beckham rocked my world, but the soundtrack seemed good as a whole.
The DVD release of Bend It Like Beckham included a moderate roster of extras that open with an audio commentary from the married couple of director Gurinder Chadha and co-writer Paul Mayeda Berges. Both sit together for this fairly lively running, screen-specific track. They cover a nice mix of topics. We get many notes about the production itself and working with the actors, and we also learn about the creation of the script and variations between it and the finished film. The most interesting elements occur when Chadha tells us the semi-autobiographical parts of the movie. The track lags at times –especially during the third act - and too often the pair just tell us the names of folks onscreen. However, the commentary generally seems acceptably interesting and informative.
Next we get an unusual featurette called Who Wants to Cook Aloo Gobi?. In this 14-minute and 55-second program, director Chadha heads into a restaurant and whips us up a batch of Aloo Gobi. Her mother and aunt come along for the ride and give her advice. The latter elements make the piece entertaining; Chadha’s mother takes the task really seriously, which offers some amusing moments as she picks at her daughter. I doubt I’ll ever try to make some Aloo Gobi, but this little piece was fun anyway. For those who do want to cook, we find a separate text recipe for Aloo Gobi.
After this we find The Making of Bend It Like Beckham. This 15-minute and 15-second program presents the usual sampling of movie snippets, material from the set, and interview clips. We get notes from director Chadha, soccer coach Simon Clifford, and actors Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Anupam Kher, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Shaznay Lewis, Trey Farley, Juliet Stevenson. A smidgen of decent information pops up here, particularly in regard to the actors’ sports training. Otherwise, the program mostly seems promotional and just heaps praise on everyone involved and the piece itself. It’s a fairly bland featurette.
In the Deleted/Extended Scenes, we get 10 different clips that run a total of 14 minutes, 35 seconds. The vast majority relate to Pinky, and many show outtakes from the wedding sequence. Nothing very interesting appears here, especially since the longest clips are pretty pointless.
A few promotional bits round out the DVD. We find a music video for Bina Mistry’s performance of “Hot Hot Hot” that runs over the end credits. The video itself isn’t very interesting, as it mostly just presents movie clips and some of the same sort of goofiness that comes with the credit sequence. More interestingly, however, are the 200 seconds of outtakes that follow the video’s end. We see the actors and the Beckhams as they perform their parts. Those moments are actually pretty entertaining. We also find two international trailers plus an ad for Antwone Fisher. The package finishes with a music promo spot for the movie’s soundtrack.
Many greeted Bend It Like Beckham as the feel-good hit of the year. I didn’t. I thought the movie offered nothing new or interesting, and it seemed like a tedious piece of predictable claptrap. The DVD presented very good picture, solid sound, and a reasonably decent parcel of supplements. It’s a good disc that will satisfy fans, but for anyone else, I can’t recommend this dull drivel.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.9 Stars|| Number of Votes: 90|