Get those teenage kicks
by Hannah Mcgill
The Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), April 11, 2002
Movies about teenagers haven’t been too inspiring of late, thanks to the dominance of American Pie and its countless imitators. Rich pickings indeed for those who enjoy giggling at vomit gags and having their homophobia reinforced – but not much going on for more complex organisms. A warm welcome, then, to two films that address the trials of the teenage years in very different but equally refreshing ways. Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mama Tambien takes a trio of adventurers on a hot-headed ramble through rural Mexico; while Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham unfolds its rites of passage against the more workaday backdrop of suburban London semis and amateur football clubs.
Chadha follows two respected, low-key micro-hits – Bhaji on the Beach and What’s Cooking – with a penalty kick at the mainstream. A perky comedy that combines dry English social realism with starry-eyed wish fulfilment more pertinent to a Girls’ Own photo story, Bend It Like Beckham is the tale of gifted footballer Jess (Parminder Nagra), and her efforts to reconcile her sporting ambitions with the demands of her traditional Sikh family.
Rather than come down heavily on restrictive religious lifestyles, however, Chadha takes a light, comic approach to her subject. She’s helped out by a cast who are uniformly good company. Nagra and co-star Keira Knightley are sincere, natural, and convincing leads; Juliet Stevenson provides an enjoyably comic cameo as a reluctant soccer mom who sees her daughter’s formidable ball control skills as a dark threat to future grandmotherhood (“There’s a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one of them without a fella!”) – and in the role of the girls’ coach and mutual crush, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers finally shows that he’s more than a photogenic face.
This is an unashamedly mild film, and some viewers will be frustrated by the slightly circuitous pattern of the narrative (Jess triumphs on the football field; is found out by her parents and reprimanded; lives to fight another day and follow her dream; repeat to fade). In the last 20 minutes of the film, all the obstacles that have confounded Jess vaporise with rather baffling ease, a defiantly feelgood strategy that threatens the film’s credibility. However, it’s hard to dislike such a well-meaning piece of film-making, and the script and performances are a cut above the British norm.