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Film / Bend It Like Beckham

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"Anyone can cook aloo gobi, but who can bend a ball like Beckham?"
Jesminder "Jess" Bhamra

Bend It Like Beckham is a 2002 British comedy film directed by Gurinder Chadha.

Jesminder "Jess" Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) is the daughter of Punjabi Sikh immigrants living in London. She loves football (as in soccer), but her parents feel she should be focusing on more womanly, Indian pursuits. Befriending Juliette "Jules" Paxton (Keira Knightley), Jess joins a women's team behind their backs, and hilarity and drama ensue.

In 2015 a musical theater production of the movie was released in London.

Bend It Like Beckham provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Joe's father pushed him way too hard; Jules' mom isn't abusive, but she's so amazingly embarrassing that it sometimes borders on abuse.
  • An Aesop: If you live your life trying to please your parents, you'll only make yourself miserable. At the same time, lying and repeatedly hiding your true life from your family won't make things any better. It's best to be honest about your intentions in the hopes that - even if they're met with disapproval at first - they could eventually be accepted.
  • Airplane Arms: Joe runs around in a circle with airplane arms when he scores in a game of cricket with Jesminder's father and Pinky's husband.
  • Almost Kiss: Jess and Joe in Germany. Jules doesn't take kindly to it.
  • Artifact Title: Sort of; it was supposed to be a pun in the original script, where Jess was a lesbian.
  • The Baby Trap: Implied as a rare positive example: Pink's wedding with her boyfriend was called off because of Jess shaming the family. Cut to a time later in the movie where Pinky, overjoyed, proclaimed that they now had to let them marry. Then during the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue we see a heavily pregnant Pinky.
  • The Beard: Jess' best friend Tony, who is in the closet, offers to marry her so she could keep playing soccer and he wouldn't have to come out.
  • Big Game: Soccer, especially for Jules. Since it's half-British, this is a must.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Jules' is very much a tomboy, and her short bob haircut actually becomes a plot point when Teetu's parents see her and Jess together on the street, mistake her for a boy, and call off Teetu's marriage to Pinky.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Despite being the protagonist, Jess comes off as this from time to time. Her sister Pinky is worse, even though she appears to be into her 20s.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Jules gives Jess her mother's shoes to wear for the wedding, so that she can spend the money she was given for that on soccer cleats. At the wedding, Jules's mother demands the shoes back on seeing them.
    • Jess's father catches Jess and Joe in a hug after a game where she was thrown out and he reprimanded her for it in front of the team. Jess's father is not happy, and that's apparent. When Jess comes to see him to share the news she's being allowed to take the soccer scholarship in America, she stops him when he goes to kiss her. His immediate reaction is to back off, look around nervously, and go "Your dad's not here, is he?"
  • Career-Ending Injury: Joe's Backstory is that he injured his knee trying to impress his dad, then tried to play injured and permanently damaged it.
  • Casting Gag: Jules's full name (which she hates) is Juliette. Her mother, the only person who calls her that, is played by Juliet Stevenson.
  • Comically Missing the Point: The Indian parents and elders have no idea what Jules's mom is freaking out about following the wedding reception; they believe the whole incident is partly a complaint about their noisy celebration and partly confusion over Jules's short hair.
    "Why did she take Jesminder's shoes?!"
    • Also at the wedding when Jule's mother accuses Jess of being a lesbian, a guest hurries to correct her: "No, no, she not Lebanese. She Punjabi."
  • Companion Cube: Jess talks to the poster of David Beckham in her room.
  • Cool Big Sis: Pinky covers for Jess on realizing she wasn't at HMV, and merely wants to know the truth when Jess returns home. She does ask why Jess has to go for such a difficult route but supports her nonetheless. In the end, she is beyond thrilled on hearing Jess got a full-ride scholarship to an American college.
  • Creator Cameo: In one scene Jess and Jules jog past two Indian women, one of whom is director Gurinder Chadha. Screenwriter Paul Mayeda Burges appears as a patron in a scene set in the pub next to the training grounds.
  • Daddy's Girl: Jess's dad is ultimately much more understanding of her than her mother, as is Jules's.
  • Daydream Surprise: The opening sequence has Jess inserted into a men's professional match and saving the day, which might look like a Flash Forward. Then it turns into the commentators interviewing her mother, who launches into a tirade against the notion of her "running around with all these men, showing her bare legs to seventy thousand people."
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Jess gets in trouble when her family thinks she was "kissing a white boy". She then explains she was hugging Jules, who is a girl. They are fine with this after the misunderstanding is cleared up and Pinky gets her wedding back on track, though Jules's mother isn't.
    • When Jess is talking about how a love match works, one of her teammates asks if an Indian would be allowed to enter into a love match with a white person. Jess replies that no, they may be allowed some freedom of choice, but her parents (and most Indian parents) would never consent to their child marrying anyone but another Indian, and one of the same faith at that (she, a Sikh, would not be allowed to marry a Muslim or Hindu).
    • Tony is really nervous about coming out as gay to his family, since they're quite against it, and Jess expresses surprise that an Indian can be gay at all.
    • "Eyes down. Don't smile. Indian bride never smiles. You'll ruin the bloody video."
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Jess gets an athletic scholarship to a US college and eventually gets her family's blessing (with her dad's help) to go without having to marry Tony. Joe and she will tackle the problem of her parents when she gets back, and in the meantime Joe is learning cricket from her dad.
  • Fake Shemp: Jess' opening daydream uses stock footage of the actual David Beckham, but his "cameo" at the end uses a lookalike along with one for his wife Victoria.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Jess's try to put a stop to her football ambitions several times. Until the end thankfully.
  • First-Name Ultimatum: Only Jess's and Jules's mothers call them Jesminder and Juliette respectively. Both find each other's full names as said by their mothers hilarious.
  • Funny Background Event: At the start of the wedding, a flirty man is rejected by Jess, then spots another woman approaching him and gives her an approving look. At the wedding hall, the two are briefly spotted again making out in the washroom. Their story culminates a few scenes later with them participating in an angry brawl, fighting to steal the video-camera from the man who had been documenting the wedding.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Jess and Pinky are Tomboy and Girly Girl. As they're both trying in their own ways to get out from under their parents' wing, though, they're more often allies than enemies. While Pinky doesn't understand why Jess wants to play football, she doesn't oppose her doing it, just suggesting that trying things her way may be better.
  • "Gender-Normative Parent" Plot:
    • Jules's mother opposes her doing a boyish hobby and doesn't understand why she doesn't want to go shopping for girly things to snag herself a man.
    • Subverted with Jess's parents, who don't particularly think of football as being a "man's sport" or their daughter as being particular masculine, but feel it's childish and no longer proper for a young lady of Jess's age to be focusing on a game (particularly one played with men while dressed in shorts) instead of her studies and learning to be a good homemaker.
  • Genre Savvy: Pinky is asked to pick Jess up at her job at HMV, but of course Jess doesn't have one and is really at practice. Pinky arrives home and covers for Jess without being prompted, guessing she's hiding something important. She proves Wrong Genre Savvy when she assumes it's a secret boyfriend.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: When Jules' mother accuses Jess and Jules of being lesbian lovers, one of Pinky's wedding guests is clearly visible in the background - he gives the two a once over, and responds with an approving nod and a lecherous smirk.
  • Graceful Ladies Like Purple: Jules's mother wears a lilac dress and hat when going to the final. It just shows how extremely feminine she is compared to everyone else.
  • Groin Attack: Jess on a male player at the park (lightly, in vengeance for a boob joke). She jams the football into his junk and runs off, leaving him and the other guys wincing.
  • He Is Not My Boyfriend: Jules mistakes Tony for Jess's boyfriend and they say this almost word for word. He's not her boyfriend indeed since he's in the closet.
  • The Hilarity of Hats: Jules's mother wears a ridiculous one the first time she goes to see her play. Her dad comments that they'll be lucky if she can even fit into the car.
  • Historical In-Joke: "Losing to the Jerries on penalties comes natural to you English. You're part of a long tradition now." The England men's national team had lost on penalties to West Germany at the 1990 World Cup and to Germany at the 1996 European Championship.
  • I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That: When Jess arrives for the trip to Germany she tells Joe about the excuse she gave her parents so they won't know she's still on the team. Joe responds with a short "I didn't hear that" as he lets her on the bus.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Before Jess' dad tells the story of why he gave up cricket, he very pointedly pours himself a drink.
  • Innocent Bigot: Mrs. Paxton when talking to Jess spouted off nearly every Indian stereotype in the book.
  • It Runs in the Family: Jess's dad was also an athlete, although he was a cricket player, not a soccer player.
  • I Want Grandkids : Jules's mother's delight on learning that one of the England women's national football team is a married mother suggests that her desperation for Jules to look for a man, and her hostility to the thought of Jules being a lesbian, could be this trope.
  • Jackie Robinson Story: Jess's father faced discrimination when he tried to play cricket in English clubs, and he doesn't believe that things have changed enough for an Indian girl to be accepted as a professional footballer. While Jess has it considerably better, she does get called a Pakinote  at least once. She points out that Nasser Hussein was captain of the English cricket team too, though her mother dismisses that as he's a Muslim.
  • Karma Houdini: Jess gets a red card for attacking a player who first fouled her and then called her a racial slur. This girl is never seen being disciplined (although the foul would have been punished by the award of a free kick), and Jess is read the riot act by Joe (who admittedly didn't know about the slur). Truth in Television as footballers get away with verbal insults all the time as it is impossible for referees to hear everything, but if the insultee physically retaliates the referee has no option but to penalise them.
  • Lady Looks Like a Dude: Jules is mistaken for a boy at one point due to her short hair.
  • Lesbian Jock: Jules' mother thinks that her daughter and Jess are this.
    "All I'm saying is, there is a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one of them without a fella."
  • Like a Duck Takes to Water: Jess had played in the park for a long time but had never joined a proper team, had coaching or even owned a pair of football boots before the movie began. Fast-forward a mere few weeks and just three matches (all in pre-season exhibition tournaments) and she was ready to vie for the attention of a US college scout. No wonder Joe gets offered to turn pro in the end.
  • Like Goes with Like: Subverted. Two white characters in a love triangle (Jules and Joe respectively) are incompatible and there's more of a connection between Joe and Jess, who is Indian.
  • Local Soundtrack: A variation. The film, which prominently features David Beckham as Jess's idol, has a soundtrack with no fewer than four songs by Spice Girls alumnae, including two by David Beckham's wife, Victoria Beckham.
  • Love Triangle: Jules adores Joe, who only has eyes for Jess.
  • Marry for Love: Jess confirms to her teammates that Pinky and her boyfriend are a love match and not an arranged marriage.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Jess and Tony are a platonic example. Pretty downplayed in the beginning of the movie, but becomes more distinct later on when Tony comes out of the closet to Jess.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Jules's mother is convinced that Jules and Jess are lesbian lovers. After Jules figures this out, she explains about the Love Triangle with Joe, while calling her out for being a homophobe.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Joe. No wonder all the girls fall over him. Even the Guys Want Him:
    Tony: He's quite fit.note 
  • Ms. Fanservice: Jules wears crop tops and sports bras throughout the film, highlighting Keira Knightly's slender figure. Notably she's almost always in a sports bra at football practice, while the other girls are usually in football shirts.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Jess tries to say that Joe wouldn't understand her reacting to being called a "paki" (a slur towards people of South Asian descent). He reminds her that he's Irish, so he understands more than she'd expect. The Irish were historically oppressed by the British for centuries, and Irish immigrants in the UK suffered plenty of discrimination themselves.
  • Not That There's Anything Wrong with That: When Jules is explaining to her mother that she's not a lesbian, she ends it by saying there's nothing wrong with being a lesbian anyways. Her mother, who is in tears and had just thrown a fit over her "discovery", quickly composes herself and rather unconvincingly agrees.
    "I've got nothing against it! I was cheering for Martina Navratilova as much as the next person!"
  • Not What It Looks Like: Jess and Jules are laughing so hard at Jules' mother they have to lean on each other to stay upright. Coupled with Jules' Boyish Short Hair it ends up looking like Jess is kissing a white boy in public. Pinky's boyfriend's parents make this mistake and use it as grounds to call off the wedding.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Half the young Indian characters (Jess, Pinky, Bubbly, Taz...) "Jess" is explained fairly early as a nickname for "Jesminder," "but only my mum calls me that." Jules, meanwhile, is short for "Juliette."
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Jess's parents' generation are rather torn about exactly how much control they can or should exert over their children. Pinky and her boyfriend are very much in love, but his parents still threaten to pull the plug on the upcoming wedding when they think they see Jess kissing a white boy on the streetnote  and conclude that Pinky comes from a bad family. Also:
    Teammate: So if you can choose, does that mean you can marry a white boy?
    Jess: White, no. Black, definitely not. A Muslim, unh-uh.
    Teammate: Guess you'll be marrying an Indian, then.
    Jess: Probably.
  • Parents Are Wrong / Parents as People: Jess's parents are clearly loving and supportive, but the cultural clash between them and their daughters drives much of the plot. Attention is given to how her mother feels about her potential in-laws not thinking Pinky is good enough for their son. In the end, her father convinces the family that Jess should pursue her dream because the world has changed and he doesn't want her repeating his mistakes.
  • Post-Injury Desk Job: After suffering a Career-Ending Injury to his knee, Joe now coaches soccer.
  • Put Me In, Coach!: Jess has to sub in after halftime in the final, and still manages to impress the scout enough to be offered a full ride scholarship on the spot. It was at least said the scout had seen her play in Germany and was already interested in her.
  • Racial Face Blindness: Played for Drama when a white player on an opposing team uses a generalized anti-Southeast Asian slur against Indian Jess. Played for Stereotype Flip when Pinky and Jess talk about Joe, and Pinky asks Jess if she really wants to be the one their community stares at because she "married the English bloke." Jess clarifies that Joe is Irish, and Pinky dismissively tells her it wouldn't matter, because "they all look the bloody same to them, innit?"
  • Sad Bollywood Wedding: Invoked by the cameraman at Pinky's wedding, who yells at her for looking so happy. "Eyes down. Look sad. Don't smile. Indian bride never smiles. You'll ruin the bloody video!". Ironically it's Jess who looks miserable throughout the wedding. Her father eventually tells her to go play in the final so she'll finally smile on her sister's big day.
  • Scars are Forever: Jess has a prominent burn scar on her leg from a childhood accident. She's initially reluctant to wear the shorts that are part of regulation football uniform (she wants to play in tracksuit bottoms, which only goalkeepers are allowed to do) because they'll expose the scar. Joe convinces her it's okay by showing her the scar on his knee from his Career-Ending Injury.
  • Settled for Gay: Tony tries to get Jess to settle down with him so that he won't have to tell his family he's gay and she can fulfill her parents' expectations and still play football. She doesn't go along, though, feeling he deserves to be happy and doesn't need to cover for her.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Jess, and Jules for that matter, in Germany. Jess also looks gorgeous in the sari she has to wear for her sister's wedding.
  • Shopping Montage: Complete with a Spice Girls alum soundtrack.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Said Spice Girl, who has two songs in the film's soundtrack, got herself a pretty funny shoutout.
      Paula: All I'm saying is, there's a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one without a fella!
    • This joke gets extra points when Posh Spice appears in the end of the film with her fella- the titular David Beckham note . Maybe Paula had a point... At the time though, Sporty Spice actually did have a boyfriend (she was last to become a mother though).
  • Soccer-Hating Americans: Averted. It's mentioned that the best place to play football professionally as a woman is in the US, and Jess and Jules are scouted for a university in Santa Clara, California for their own soccer team.
  • Sports Dad: Joe's is implied to be one; they no longer speak after Joe's Career-Ending Injury. Jules' dad is an aversion. Football is their Commonality Connection and he's nothing but supportive.
  • Strict Parents Make Sneaky Kids: The plot is fueled by Jess coming up with all sorts of increasingly ridiculous ways to play football without her parents finding out.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Or, in this case, coach-player romance.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Jess and Jules have to play together during their fight. Predictably, it means they're distracted and out of sync with each other on the field.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Jess and her sister Pinky, Jules and her mother.
  • Tomboy with a Girly Streak: The other girls on the team are football players, but do talk about girly things too. Jess in fact needs Mel's help to doll up for a night out. Jules even wears a skimpy silver halter top for that sequence.
  • When I Was Your Age...: Jess can't play football in part because her parents feel she should be focusing on other things, but also because her sister is engaged and her non-traditional behavior could result in a Parental Marriage Veto. Jess complains that she isn't the one getting married, so it shouldn't matter, and her mother snaps that she was married at Jess's age, yet Jess doesn't even want to learn the basics of becoming an Indian homemaker.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: A short montage of Jess' mom and a very pregnant Pinky getting gifts from Jess, then the Paxtons with Santa Clara University shirts from Jules, then Jess' dad and Joe playing cricket outside the Bhamra house before the Fade to Black.
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?: The theme of children defying their parents' expectations, and particularly the traditionalism of Indian immigrant parents versus their more assimilated kids, comes up again and again (with varying results).
    • The main plot, obviously: Jess wants to play football, but Indian girls don't do that. In this case, Jess' father is much more understanding on the matter. For instance, when he sees Jess perfectly miserable attending her sister's wedding when the big game is about to begin, he gives her permission to go.
    • Pinky is more feminine and eager to get married, but wears tight clothes, makeup and blue contacts that her mother doesn't approve of, and has to sneak around to have premarital sex with her boyfriend.
    • Tony is gay. Even Jess, when he tells her, says "But you're Indian!" — and then "What's your mum going to say?" By the end of the movie, he still hasn't told anybody but her.
    • Jules's mother can't for the life of her understand why her daughter likes football so much and isn't interested in things like buying padded bras so as to snare a man (her father, by contrast, is supportive).
    • Joe's father was so determined for him to improve his game that he caused him a Career-Ending Injury. Joe also says he'd "piss himself" if he knew Joe was now coaching a women's team. Turns out in the end he was wrong: when Hounslow Harriers make their women's team pro, he tells his dad and Dad's apparently proud of him.
    • The idea of Jess dating or marrying her Irish coach is objectionable to her parents and even Pinky. Even at the end, she tells him they have to at least hold off on a relationship, because her parents have adjusted to enough changes in a short time span.note 
  • Workout Fanservice:
    • In the training scenes, we see a few of the female players wearing sports bras, baring their midriffs and showing off their toned physiques.
    • For the reverse, Jess frequently plays in the park with some shirtless boys.
  • You Go, Girl!: Jess is shown to be the only girl in her neighborhood who plays football, and she frequently outclasses the boys. The movie however deals more with her playing competitively with other girls, as the boys seem quite accepting of her, thus downplaying the trope.
  • Your Tradition Is Not Mine: Jess and Jules, and to a lesser extent Pinky with their mothers.