Jesminder, aka Jess, a good Indian-English girl and Sikh, defies her traditional parents and secretly joins a girls’ football team. There she meets her new BFF Jules and together they chase their common dream of moving to America to lay professional soccer.
Jules’ (Keira Knightley) mother is not too pleased to have a tomboy for a daughter, and she’s horrified to think Jules may be one of those lesbians (“All I’m saying is, there’s a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one without a fella!”) but it’s Jess who suffers the most from her parents’ expectations. She gets cultural, religious, and filial guilt and shame heaped upon her – her soccer skills even threaten her sister’s marriage, somehow.
In 2002, this was a fun movie about female friendship and gender stereotypes. ‘A 2018 re-watch is not particularly kind to it. It feels dated. Very dated. Which is great, obviously. Even as we burn in our collective dumpster fire, at least we can look back to the cultural touchstone that is Bend It Like Beckham with just a touch of smugness that we no longer say things like “Mother, just because I wear trakkies and play sport does not make me a lesbian!” and (white man to Indian woman who was just called a Paki) “Jess, I’m Irish. Of course I understand what that feels like.” If you wondered what those sounds were the other night, that was me, winning the world cup in groaning.
I still don’t know what it means to “bend it” like Beckham but I’ve been imagining that he has a crooked penis. This was the movie that introduced American audiences to Keira Knightley, and I didn’t find her completely awful yet. Parminda Nagra was the real stand-out, as was the man who played her father, Anupam Kher, an illustrious and dashing Indian film star. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is even creepier than I remembered. Like, unmanageably, unforgivably, career-killingly (you’d think) creepy. I don’t want him in the same movie as anyone’s juicy, juicy mangoes. He’s nearly as terrible as the 00’s club wear these ladies are sporting. It’s like a fashion show of my biggest regrets.