This long-running (opened in March of 2003 and is still running in some theaters as of September) crowd pleaser (although not enough to support the sport, unfortunately, as the USA's Women's United Soccer Association has recently folded operations) was marketed heavily as this year's answer to "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", but "Bend It Like Beckham" is an energetic, vividly played film of its own. The film focuses on Jesminder "Jess" Bhamra (Parminder K. Nagra, who is apparently on "E.R." now), fan of the popular UK football star David Beckham and secretive soccer player - secretive, mainly, because her Indian parents are dismayed at the thought of their daughter spending all her time playing soccer. In the film's amusing dream opening, her mother takes a trio of sportscasters to task for encouraging her daughter.
When Juliette "Jules" Paxton (Kiera Knightley of "Pirates of the Caribbean", who has beautiful features, yet also looks awfully skinny here) spots Jess playing in the park, she tells her she should try out for the local team, which she does, much to the approval of coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers). Unfortunately, her parents think she should give up any notions of the sport and prepare for her future as a wife and mother. Meanwhile, Jules has a mother who believes that soccer is only for boys, yelling "there's a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one without a fellow!".
There are little, if any, surprises here. It's obvious that Jess is going to have to sneak around and it's just as obvious that after being caught, there's going to be a happy ending. However, despite the fact that it's formulaic, it's still well-handled. Shaheen Khan and Anupham Kher manage to keep the roles of Jess's mother and father from being overly obnoxious, shrill or cartoonish. They think they know what's best for their daughter's happiness, but they're not so harsh about it as to turn the characters into villians, which I felt "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" sometimes did with its parents. Nagra and Knightley make a great pairing, quite believable as friends who quickly bond over common issues.
That's not saying the film is without some noticable flaws, however. The nearly two-hour film doesn't have enough going to require that kind of length - 20 minutes could have been cut off the picture, easily. Scenes could be tightened up and some of the subplots could have been easily lost, as well. Better pacing could have made this a more involving feature. Also, once again, viewers will likely either be involved in this story via the quite good performances or not at all, as most will probably feel as if they've seen this story before and can easily predict where its headed.
Technically, this is a strong feature for a fairly low-budget picture. Cinematographer Jong Lin and editor Justin Krish present the soccer superbly, with vibrant bursts of action that make the game seem fluid and highlight the athleticism involved. The film's music mix can go a little overboard, though. In trying to give the film an added boost of energy, the music instead becomes a little too overbearing at times.
Overall, I felt mixed (but positive) about "Beckham". I'd seen the story before, predicted where it was going, but still was charmed by its performances. I can't say it's a terribly memorable feature, but it's a good-hearted, lightweight comedy/drama that's enjoyable.
VIDEO: Fox presents "Bend it Like Beckham" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is certainly one of the better transfers that I've seen from Fox in recent months. Thankfully, the widescreen edition gets the disc to itself here, rather than have to share space with the pan & scan edition that Fox has unfortunately included on most of their releases in recent months. Sharpness and detail are excellent throughout most of the movie; some of the lower-light interiors can appear a bit more soft, but definition holds up well during the majority of the film.
The picture is generally free of such issues as edge enhancement and print flaws, but I did notice a couple of compression artifacts in one or two of the darker scenes. Colors were presented superbly, with rich tones and strong saturation. Overall, a fine transfer.
SOUND: I didn't care as much for "Bend it Like Beckham"'s Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation, which puts too much focus on the music. Although there's certainly some catchy pop tunes throughout, the music becomes excessive at times, both in quantity and volume. Surrounds kick in heavily for the music, but other than that, there's - as expected - not a whole lot for the rear speakers to do, aside from some nice ambience at times. Audio quality is quite good - dialogue is easily understood (although some may have trouble with some of the accents).
EXTRAS: The DVD includes a cheerful and enjoyable commentary from director Gurinder Chadha and co-writer Paul Mayeda Berges, the 14-minute "Who Wants to Cook Aloo Gobi?", where the director tries to cook the dish; a "making of" that runs 15 minutes, deleted scenes, trailers and a music video.
Final Thoughts: Lightweight and charming, "Bend It Like Beckham" largely succeeds because of two very fine lead performances and a talented supporting cast. The film is generally entertaining because of the performances, but some original twists to the screenplay and some considerable tightening of the pace could have helped make this an even better picture. Fox's DVD offers fine video, satisfactory audio and a good helping of supplements. Recommended for a purchase by the film's fans; others may want to try a rent first.