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Bend It Like Beckham - Two Perspectives (1/2)

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


I've never been one for chick flicks. As a guy, the very phrase reminds me of a warning you'd see on a bottle of insecticide: "Do not point at eyes directly. If machismo disappears, please consult a physician." 
With a whole gender out there that can't be placated by big, shiny, exploding things, women certainly deserve movies suited towards their own tastes. Yet, while most girls get away with simply not going to the latest shoot-em-up blockbuster, boyfriends stand a far greater chance of getting dragged along to a movie where women are getting in touch with their feminine side.
When watching these movies, the skeptic in me has a difficult time being silenced when a film depicts urbane women, wardrobes permanently set on stun, who casually toss off witty, hyperarticulate dialogue while talking about what jerks men are. To reduce the number of men who have to be taken kicking and screaming, to such movies, it seems that some filmmakers have reworked the chick flick to make a pleasurable movie going experience for both sexes.
An example of this happy medium is "Bend it Like Beckham". The story revolves around a tomboyish Sikh, Jess (Parminder Nagra) who dreams to play competitive soccer but has to do so against her parents' wishes, which are mostly restricted to books and cookware.
After acquiring worldwide acclaim and grossing more than $50 million (US) worldwide, in March, Beckham the movie (like Beckham the player recently) set off to conquer America. And, despite a cast void of star power and a title that remains a headscratcher to most American audiences, Beckham has become a surprise hit of sorts here.
As a low-budget comedy with ethnic and family themes, Beckham has drawn numerous comparisons to the 2002 movie "My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding". So how is the unlikely combination of an Indian football player in London hitting it big with American audiences?
I found part of Beckham's appeal to stem in part from its firmer base in reality than predecessors like "Wedding". The universal appeal of unbearable parents always plays well, but the Greek parents in "Wedding" could've been interchangeable with virtually any ethnicity. Jess' Sikh parents however, were, it seemed to me, depicted a little more accurately; stern, demanding and unyielding, not just quirky characters destined to star in an ill-fated sitcom.
Also, as advertisements for movies here verge on super-saturation, it's refreshing that the adverts for "Beckham" merely encourage viewers to do themselves a favor and see what the rest of the world already has.
The strategy has seemed to work as Beckham has grossed more than its $25 million in the US through a slow burn effect where a groundswell of buzz is generated and once credibility is established, it gradually gets added to more theaters. Much better than plastering ads over soft drink containers, don't you think?
I was also pleased to see that the film kept its international flavor by leaving in the British slang and colloquialisms. While some of the dialect may need translation, the obligatory Spice Girls reference prevents the humour from completely sailing over American heads.
Make no mistake, "Beckham" at its core, is one for the ladies. Still, with the appeal of romance, sports, and how parents still don't understand, "Beckham" buries the shot to send everyone home happy.


Hal Cohen (US male), August 2003

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