Bend It Like Beckham

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“Bend It Like Beckham” is the latest film to explore the comedic potential of people from India, not as Kwik-E-Mart employees or cab drivers, but as actual people with an actual culture. Of course, even these more respectful films wouldn’t exist if there weren’t something inherently fascinating to us Westerners about Indian culture, but still, it’s a start. Better to be fascinating as a people than as a stereotype.

The film, a feel-good sort of thing, is directed and co-written by Gurinder Chadha, whose “What’s Cooking?” (2000) explored similar themes of different cultures interacting. Here, it is a Sikh family living in London, where Western influences are hard to avoid. Jess Bharma (Parminder K. Nagra), a vivacious teenager, has a knack for soccer (called football over there, of course), to the chagrin of her ultra-traditional parents (Anupam Kher and Shaheen Khan), who don’t think a girl ought to be engaged in such pursuits.

It is particularly bad timing now, because Jess’ sister Pinky (Archie Panjabi) is about to be married, and Jess is needed to assist in the massive wedding preparations. The second busiest time in a Sikh girl’s life, after getting married, is being the sister of someone getting married.

Matters are made worse by Jess’ affection for her coach, a decidedly non-Indian boy named Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), and there’s some forced pseudo-farce when the parents of Jess’ friend Juliette (Keria Knightley) think Jules is in love with Jess. There is not much to guess from there, plot-wise. The film is a pleasing blend of sports-underdog movie (a few great soccer sequences), family comedy and coming-of-age story, enhanced a good deal by Nagra’s appealing performance as Jess. She has a funny, expressive personality that carries the film.

The bit with the suspected lesbianism, as well as an out-of-nowhere revelation about another character, serve to reinforce the major theme, which is about accepting people’s differences — your own and others’. It is not a perfect film, nor a hilarious one, but it is likable.

B+ (1 hr., 52 min.; PG-13, some profanity, some mild sexuality.)