We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
These days, movies about plucky aspirants fulfilling their seemingly impossible dreams are Britain’s No. 1 export. From Brassed Off! to The Full Monty to Billy Elliot, if a sentient being has been in the world long enough to walk into a movie theater, that being can anticipate every word of the caught-between-worlds banter and can time the last-minute triumph down to the second. So now we have Bend It Like Beckham, a good idea executed with both cheapness and charm by Bhaji on the Beach director Gurinder Chadha. The film focuses on Jess Bhamra (Parminder K. Nagra), the teenage daughter of traditional Indian parents living in London. The Bhamras want for Jess what their older daughter, Pinky (Archie Panjabi), already has: a future as a housewife to a nice Indian boy. Never mind that Pinky and her friends swagger around in halter tops and hoop earrings, smacking gum and ogling boys, as long as they’re on their way to an elaborate and inevitable Indian wedding. Good girl Jess just wants to play football (that boring sport we call “soccer”), a desire portrayed in too many action-with-a-song-behind-it montages. When she’s recruited by the Hounslow Supermodelsmake that Hounslow Harriersshe’s torn between duty to her family and following her bliss, which includes toothsome male coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). The team leader, willowy Jules (Keira Knightley), has a similarly problematic home life: Her mother (Juliet Stevenson) suspects she’s a lesbian. It’s all silly and lighthearted and push-button uplifting in a way that will entertain everyone and offend no oneunless, of course, you like your movies with fewer shrill harpies as villains. Even so, the film has a scruffy appeal, with mistimed jokes and silly performances, particularly Rhys-Meyers’: Supposedly struck with desire when he first sees Jess in a dress and heels, Joe responds by grinding his teeth. Arion Berger