Bend it again

Brit soccer film socks us again

Gabriel Shapiro

The Minnesota Daily originally reviewed Gurinder Chadha’s film “Bend It Like Beckham” in March 2003. Since its initial release in the art house/independent circuit, it has played in those venues almost without interruption. After making a big splash in its native United Kingdom, the movie came to the United States and played at places such as the Lagoon Cinema for months. Finally, the big-shots caught on, and “Bend it Like Beckham” went into wide release Aug. 1. What is it about this movie that has made it such a huge crossover hit?

Anyone who has seen “Bend it Like Beckham” won’t be surprised to hear that the film is now reaching a wider audience. From the get-go, it seemed destined for bigger things. One reason for its success is its broad appeal. It’s a coming-of-age comedy/drama about a girl making difficult choices and doing what she wants for the first time. But unlike so many movies aimed at young people, this one hasn’t had its brain removed. It’s clever and witty, and the emotional moments aren’t big, cheap, weepy affairs, but seem rather identifiable to anyone who’s ever felt a little different. Parents, young children, teens and even bitter old collegiate film reviewers can thoroughly enjoy this film.

Another big reason for the success could clearly be tied to the massive popularity of soccer among American youth, especially girls. The sport’s popularity has grown as the first generation of Americans who grew up playing soccer has matured. The U.S. women’s team stars are practically household names – at least forward/midfielder Mia Hamm and defender Brandi Chastain are. Given these facts, a movie about girls and soccer couldn’t have been timed better. Soccer is the most popular youth pastime in the States, and although television viewership might not compare to football and baseball yet, it certainly seems poised to overtake them in the not-too-distant future, particularly if the women’s team remains dominant in the World Cup and the Olympics. They seem to be taking up the slack for the men, who have improved, though at a much more gradual pace.

Recent trends in Western culture and fashion have brought elements of Indian culture into the spotlight. Go to any mall or clothing store and you’ll see Indian motifs in the newest items. A new Urban Outfitters line features a Coca-Cola logo written in Bengali while a new line from Diesel has large Tamil lettering on several items. In film and music, there has been a rush to incorporate the vibrant colors and pounding, pulsing beats associated with Bollywood and bhangra – two things many Americans might not be able to specifically identify, but have probably seen or heard. Movies such as “The Guru,” an American comedy about Indians; “Devdas,” a hugely popular Bollywood movie that was eventually nominated for an Academy Award; and “Bend it Like Beckham” have brought American audiences some images of Indian cinema in a more initially accessible package. Compact discs with Bollywood remixes and loops of Indian music playing under dance or hip-hop tracks have also become very popular, and it isn’t unusual to hear a tabla or sitar in an otherwise Western song.

The success of the film’s two main stars couldn’t have hurt either. Parminder Nagra has a new movie in the works and is headed for a regular role on NBC’s long-running hospital drama “ER,” where she is said to have been signed for three seasons. Even quicker success followed for Nagra’s “Beckham” co-star Keira Knightley, who landed a leading lady role in this summer’s movie-based-on-an-amusement-park-ride, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” opposite Johnny Depp. In the new “Beckham” press campaign she is referred to as “Pirates of the Caribbean’s Keira Knightley,” which seems somehow sad, given that “Beckham” is far and away the better film.

Is that the recipe for indie success? A girl, a sport, an ethnicity and voila! Big hit? Well, maybe it’s not that simple, although “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” had two of the three and did quite well too. Whatever the reason, if you haven’t seen “Beckham” yet, you should, and it just got a whole lot easier.

“Bend it Like Beckham,” rated PG-13. Directed by Gurinder Chadha. Starring Parminder K. Nagra, Keira Knightley and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. Now showing at area theaters.

Gabriel Shapiro welcomes comments at [email protected]