Every teenage girl's got her celebrity crushes. And pictures of the adored usually get slathered all over her bedroom walls. Londoner Jess Bhamra is no exception. Her hero is David Beckham, England's (real-life) soccer star/heartthrob extraordinaire. His face beams down from every nook and cranny of Jess' room. Jess wants to meet Beckham. She wants to play with Beckham. She wants to Bend It Like Beckham. ("Bend it" refers to a kicking technique that causes the ball to curve in midair, much like a pitcher's curveball does in baseball.) And while she doesn't have much of a shot at becoming the first female member of Manchester United, she is a pretty snazzy player in her own right. Years of practice at the park have honed her considerable natural talent to a sharp edge. So when fellow teen and soccer enthusiast Jules spots Jess weaving the ball through a pack of flailing boys, she's quick to invite her to try out for her women's "football club." But while Jess' soccer future suddenly looks brighter than she ever dreamed it could, her life at home has come to a bewildering crossroads. Jess belongs to a traditionally minded Indian family that frowns on girls playing sports. They frown on girls wearing shorts. And they frown on girls—who should be preparing to marry good Indian boys and learning how to be proper Indian ladies—hanging out with foolish, soccer-obsessed Brits.
positive elements: Everyone should have something in their life that makes them sing. A job. A hobby. A sport. A goal. A tradition. British import Bend It Like Beckham encourages moviegoers to chase after whatever that thing happens to be with zest and passion. Jess' parents learn that just because they find comfort and security in the familiarity of their age-old traditions, they can't force her to follow the same path. Jess, meanwhile, learns that she can't neglect (and disobey) her parents in her quest for fulfillment and still expect to enjoy the journey. She learns it the hard way, though. She spends most of the movie sneaking out of the house to play soccer behind her parents' backs. She's a high school graduate, but she's still living at home and is subject to her parents' rules. So her acts of defiance are certainly not laudable or excusable. At the same time, her parents' relentless opposition to something as wholesome as soccer ("Why should I have to lie? It's not like I'm sleeping around or anything," Jess complains) serves only to needlessly frustrate and exasperate her. Ultimately, the script illuminates both Ephesians 6:1 and 6:4. Onscreen, Jess' deceit and willfulness seem to persuade her father to relax his restrictions. If teens walk away with that idea, they will have missed the larger point: Jess realizes that she's been unhappy living a lie and comes to grips with the fact that she's better off without soccer if that's the only way she can strengthen her family ties. Bending the rules doesn't get Jess what she wants; it's her father's unconditional love for her that finally prompts him to set aside his own likes and dislikes to make room for her dreams. Jess knows that full well. And it's not just because her mom asks, "What bigger honor is there than respecting your elders?" So when her coach calls his own father a "bastard," she responds, "You shouldn't say that about your dad." She's also heard defending her parents, saying, "They want to protect me. [Soccer] is taking me away from everything they know."
Racism is condemned, as is a victim's bitterness about being on the receiving end of it. Jess' dad has to come to terms with the way he was treated as a young man wanting to play cricket. After being tossed out of the clubhouse because of his ethnicity, he vowed he would never play again. Years later, he realizes his vengeful attitude only hurt himself, not the ones who abused him. Teamwork and hard work also get healthy nods.
spiritual content: Jess' family pray to what appears to be an Indian diety and revere a large portrait prominently displayed in their living room. Jess' mom expresses concern that her daughters' careless actions will "shame" them at their temple. She also moans about what she might have done wrong in a past life to deserve such wayward children. An Indian neighbor asks for prayer.
nudity and sexual content: Beckham's most positive theme (finding one's niche and pursuing goals with gusto) introduces its highest hurdle: homosexuality. It's one thing for Jess and Jules to forge their identity around a small black-and-white ball; it's entirely different when Jess' Indian friend, Tony, casually informs her that he's gay. The conversation goes something like this: "I sure like Beckham," Tony says. "Of course, we all like Beckham, he's the best," Jess replies. "No, I mean I really like Beckham," Tony gushes. Jess is cool with Tony's lifestyle choices, and moviegoers are expected to follow her lead.
A parallel subplot involves Jules' mom believing her daughter is a lesbian and is in love with Jess. Distraught, she blames her husband and soccer for turning Jules on to gay ideas and goes to some length to try to "straighten" her out. In the context of the movie's other events, her angst over lesbianism is deemed "homophobic" and equated with Jess' parents' anxiety over her soccer career. Then, when she learns the truth that Jules and Jess both have a crush on their male coach, she does an about-face and eagerly endorses homosexuality (now that her daughter isn't involved). "What the bloody h--- were you thinking? Just because I wear trackies [sweats] and play sports doesn't mean it'll make me a lesbian!" Jules rages, angry at her mom for being so narrow-minded. "So what if I'm gay. What's the problem? Being a lesbian isn't that big of a deal!" Humbled and chastised, Mom replies, "No, no. Of course not. I was cheering for Martina Navratilova just as much as the next guy."
Elsewhere, teen girls are shown changing clothes in a locker room (glimpses of their bras and panties). Various women wear revealing outfits. Jules' mom nags her about having small breasts and zero sex appeal, pressuring her to wear a "pump-action" bra which inflates to enhance bust size. Mom also grabs her daughter's breasts and shoves them upwards to show them off. Likewise, members of Jess' extended family laugh about her "mosquito bite" breasts. Shirtless guys rub their own "manly" chests while laughing about Jules' inability to properly "chest" a soccer ball. Giggly teen girls ogle the bare-chested guys. Jules makes a hand motion that symbolizes masturbation (the British vulgarity "w-nker" is also thrown around). Jess' sister is seen making out (heavily) with a guy in a parked car. Sexual innuendo includes references to "big engines." Jokes are made about premarital sex being "the best bit." When Jess and Jules' soccer team travels to Germany for a game, they go clubbing afterwards (dancing is sensual and costumes spare). A couple is seen making out in a bathroom. "Shag" is used to denote sexual acts. Outtakes seen during closing credits include images of the girls on the soccer team lifting their shirts to show off their sports bras and guys rubbing other guys' chests in mock displays of affection. (All this over the music of a song titled "Hot, Hot, Hot").
violent content: After being teased, Jules slams a soccer ball into a guy's crotch. Angry about a racial slur tossed her way during a game, Jess pushes the girl responsible (Jess is red-carded for her actions). Revelers tussle and fight over a video camera.
crude or profane language: Jesus' name is abused a handful of times. The s-word is uttered four times. Coarse British terms such as "shag," "bloody," "w-nker" and "b-ll-cks" are trotted out and a bleeped f-word crops up during the credits.
drug and alcohol content: The girls' coach works at a pub. Some of the soccer players drink alcohol at clubs and restaurants. Jess isn't seen drinking, but at one point she staggers out of a German club looking intoxicated (she blames the dense cigarette smoke inside). Jess' and Jules' parents drink wine. Jules' father smokes.
other negative elements: Despite the largely positive resolution of the matter, Jess' disobedience is encouraged by her friends—and coach ("What your parents don't know won't hurt them," Jules insists). Both Jules and Jess' sister help her deceive her parents, going so far as to lie for her. That's not much of a stretch for the sister, who is carrying on a clandestine sexual relationship with her fiancé. Characters voice racial slurs ("Jerries," "Paki"), but the film firmly condemns racism and prejudice.
conclusion: Call this cross-cultural dramedy "My Big Fat Indian Wedding" with a shot of Hoosiers. The story and casting are superb. Newcomer Parminder Nagra eloquently captures the conflict between Jess' new-world soccer dreams, old-world desire to please her family, and her own budding womanhood. She's surrounded by an assortment of colorful, genuine-feeling characters, from her focused, everything-for-the-goal friend, Jules, to her doting, torn-between-two-cultures parents. Her (at times) tentative reach toward her dreams is easily accessible for both British and American audiences. We've all felt the tension between what we want and what others want for us. We've all wanted to please our families, knowing that sometimes pleasing them means cheating ourselves. Jess is on the cusp of independence, so how she should interact with her family isn't as clear-cut as it would be if she were 12. That just makes the film all the more thought-provoking. This is the kind of nuanced script that can spawn healthy and hearty conversations between teens and parents about the gradual process of apron-string cutting, mutual respect, obedience, exasperation, support for both tradition and forward thinking. But Bend It Like Beckham's embrace of homosexual ideals—particularly as they apply to teens—should make families wary. The value of one good chat about parent-teen relationships is deeply undermined if the side effect is a subtle, growing acceptance of "alternative lifestyles."