It is the eve of war, and the mood of the world is sombre. Some developments
have been heartening. In the UK, the resignation of Robin Cook and today’s debate
on going to war have shown the world British parliamentary democracy at its
very best: lucid, heartfelt speeches coming together to create a compelling
and informative debate.
In Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria has published a 5,500-word cover
story (surely some kind of record) which is required reading for all neoconservative
hawks and any Americans who want to understand why the rest of the world hates
them more than it hates Iraq. Zakaria supports
the war, which makes this indictment of US unilateralism all the more stinging.
Other developments have been much less heartening. George W Bush’s address
to the nation on Monday night was one of the most infuriating, depressing and
inarticulate speeches I can recall hearing. While Bush might personally have
his moral clarity, he does a dreadful job in conveying it to the rest of us,
veering wildly instead from an accusation that Saddam is bugging weapons inspectors
(for this we’re going to war?) to his increasingly-desperate attempt
to connect Saddam to Al-Qaeda.
As for me, after sitting through that overlong speech and staring for far too
long at Bush’s weird left eyebrow, I felt like slitting my wrists. My mood was
about as low as I can ever remember it being, so there was only one thing for
it: escape into a fantasy world.
Thus it was that I found myself at the wonderful Landmark
Sunshine Cinema at 9:55 on a Monday night, a bag of popcorn in hand, ready
for a light, brainless feel-good comedy. And I have to say that Bend
It Like Beckham did not disappoint.
There’s certainly no fear that Bend It is going to deviate in any
way from the rules of the multiethnic-comedy genre. The generation gaps, the
mutual incomprehension, the way that everybody learns a valuable lesson at the
end: watching this film is like wearing a really comfy old jumper. And since
it’s an English comedy, there’s a certain unfinished quality to it as well:
it could have done with a bit more work. Some of the expository dialogue hits
the ground with a clunk and stops the film dead ("I hope I get the two
As and a B I need to get into University"), the editing is sloppy in parts
(Keira Knightley’s reaction shot when a teammate admits to liking casual sex
is way, way too late), and the whole film would benefit from having
a good 20 minutes shaved off its 112-minute run time.
But this film is English, so it has its good points as well. Among them are
some fantastic one-liners which weren’t focus-grouped out in pre-production,
as well as a completely shameless soundtrack which even goes so far as to use
the Pavarotti Nessun Dorma recording from the 1990 World Cup at the
(entirely predictable) climax of the film. Also completely shameless is Bend
It‘s overindulgence in long sequences of fabulous-looking and decidedly
underdressed girls (and a few boys) which serve no purpose whatsoever other
than titillation. I loved them. The more bare skin that Keira Knightley displays
in a movie, the better that movie becomes: this, surely, is an immutable law
Knightley, in fact, is so magnetically good-looking that she easily eclipses
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (remember him, glammed up in Velvet Goldmine or
hanging upside down and naked in Titus?) who has grown up alarmingly
and is no longer quite the sex symbol he was. Both of them, unfortunately, are
much better-looking than the film’s lead, Parminder Nagra, a young actress making
her feature-film debut. Nagra does, however, make it up with some extremely
impressive fancy footwork on the soccer field.
There is a plot, of sorts. Jess (Nagra) is discovered playing football in the
park by Jules (Knightley), who introduces her to the local girls’ football team,
coached by Joe (Rhys-Meyers). Both of the girls purportedly fancy the boy (who,
being their coach, is forbidden to get involved with them), but judging by their
behaviour when together, one imagines that Jules’s mother is not far off the
mark when she comes to the conclusion that their friendship is a little bit
more than just friends. All three leads have problems with their parents. Jess’s
sister is getting married… but you’re bored at this point. The plot is pretty
much irrelevant, the stereotypes are broadly (if fondly) drawn, and the film
is generally propelled forward by little more than its own good humour.
I have a feeling that this little film set in Hounslow could have arrived on
these shores at just the right time. It did very well in its first weekend of
release, and if Americans have any idea what these people are talking about,
they will surely love it at least as much as I did. When I left the cinema,
I was in an infinitely better mood, and while that won’t make George Bush change
his mind about invading Iraq, it will at least make my tiny little corner of
the world a teensy bit happier.