Bend It Like Beckham 

(PG-13) 3 1/2 stars

(PG-13) 3 1/2 stars
Bend It Like Beckham is a very 21st century film, all about challenging tradition and breaking the rules, but much of its charm lies in its old-fashioned premise. The story of our heroine, Jess Bjamra (the luminous newcomer Parminder Nagra), is a familiar one: Growing up in west London below the flight path of Heathrow Airport, she chafes under the expectations of her strict Sikh parents and longs to forge her own way in the world. The twist is that she wants to do it by playing football. This scenario has been the starting point for a number of recent "ethnic" comedies, from My Big Fat Greek Wedding to Monsoon Wedding, but director Gurinder Chadha takes it a step further with her genre-bending hybridization of wedding comedy and sports drama. Jess idolizes David Beckham, the winsome Manchester United midfielder renowned for his ability to kick the ball in unexpected directions; the not-so-subtle theme of the film is that, like Beckham, Jess must learn to bend without breaking in order to (forgive the pun) achieve her goals. Unbeknownst to her family, Jess is befriended by Jules (Keira Knightley), another female footballer, and recruited to play for a women"s team called the Hounslow Harriers. Neither girl"s parents approve of their daughters" athletic aspirations: "There"s a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one without a fella!" admonishes Jules" mother. Jess" father (Bollywood legend Anupam Kher) discourages her from playing, recalling the discrimination he once faced as a young cricket player. Meanwhile, the Harriers" taciturn, hunky Irish coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), who Jess and Jules both fancy, arranges for the team to play an exhibition match in Germany, and Jess sneaks out of the country to compete. When her family finds out, it looks like Jess is off the team for good, destined for law school and an arranged marriage to a nice Sikh boy. On the day of the championship match, which coincidentally falls on her sister Pinky"s wedding day, Jess doffs her sari for a pair of cleats and finally gets a chance to prove herself. The football scenes are beautifully edited, kinetic and graceful, and a delight to watch even for non-football fans. Some audiences have complained about not getting the inside jokes about football culture or Indian culture, but if you"re paying attention, you should have no trouble enjoying yourself. Bend It Like Beckham isn"t perfect, and sometimes relies too heavily on outdated clichÈs of both cultures. But it"s a big-hearted film, and gives both Jess and Jules the happy ending we want for them, if not quite the one we expected. The film"s final scene offers a wonderfully post-colonial image of acceptance and reconciliation, with Mr. Bjamra and Joe playing a game of cricket as planes fly overhead.

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