This column about ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ was published in the Arizona Daily Sun in May 2003

Soccer movie captures essence of female sports

By Ed Odeven

Every now and then a movie comes along and reminds us of the pure joy an athlete feels by playing a game, the exhilaration that comes from competing and winning and striving to be better than the next player.

The British film “Bend It Like Beckham” perfectly illustrates this.

I went to see the delightful picture show the other day. The film tackles many topics — people’s perceptions of sexism and racism, changing values in a modern world, people’s desire to cling to traditional ways, etc. — in a finely woven tale of urban existence in London. But first and foremost, the film focuses on the central character Jesminder (“Jess”) Bhamra’s desire to play soccer, the game Britons call football.

Jess is an 18-year-old girl who loves soccer. The walls of her bedroom are plastered with pictures of Manchester United superstar David Beckham. It’s a shrine, really. (In case you’re wondering, the title of the movie refers to Beckham’s awesome ability to bend the ball, i.e. curve a shot, especially on a penalty kick over a wall of defenders into the goal.)

Early in the movie, Jess is playing in the park with a few of her male chums, whom she calls mates. We see her quick feet, her dazzling dribbling skills, her keen sense of being in the right place at the right time and her goal-scoring ability. Jess is all smiles in moments like these.

Jess is a second-generation Indian living in England. Her parents want her to be a traditional Indian girl, follow their Punjabi Sikh values, settle down, get married and have kids. They don’t want her playing soccer, especially with the neighborhood lads, or as her mother bluntly puts it: “running around half-naked in front of men.”

Jess’ older sister is getting married, and so her mom needs help preparing the extravagant feast. This, of course, eliminates a lot of her leisure time. Instead of staying out in the park, she’s needed to come inside to help in the kitchen.

“It’s not fair. Boys don’t have to come home,” Jess laments.

She begrudgingly helps her mother in the kitchen, but still continues playing soccer.

During one of her visits to the park, Jess meets Juliet (“Jules”), another 18-year-old who plays soccer. Jules urges Jess to try out for a nearby girls club, the Yeading Football Club, she plays on.

Jess agrees to do so. Without revealing the movie’s entire plot and storyline, the unfolding drama is a conflict between Jess’ desire to play and her parents’ opposite wishes.

So Jess sneaks around. She says she has a job. Actually, she’s going to the Yeading F.C.’s practices.

Her parents eventually find out the truth. Still, she continues playing. … She competes in a tournament in Hamburg, Germany. Eventually, Jess’ father, who was once a cricket standout himself in Nairobi, Kenya, before being refused admittance into English cricket clubs because he’s Indian, attends one of her games. He doesn’t tell her he’s there. He just sits in the stands, flashing a proud smile as his daughter excels and scores goals. This is one of the movie’s most touching moments.

The film’s underlying message is this: Give me (Jess) an opportunity to do what I love to do. That’s what eventually happens, as Jess is able to experience the best of both worlds in the film’s final chapter — she attends her sister’s wedding and is still able to dash off to play in the second half of, naturally, the season finale for Yeading and impress an American college soccer scout before returning to the lavish wedding party.

As I left the cinema, I was reminded of the many talented female athletes in the Flagstaff area I’ve been fortunate to have a chance to write about over the past two years — standouts such as Tess Corona and Charmayne Johnson at Coconino, Teresa Fukumoto and Megan Green at Sinagua and Rhiannon Baca and the Eagles’ three-time defending Class 4A state cross country runners at Flag High. These are girls who love to play sports. And their ability to do so can help them achieve many things in life, including self-discipline, leadership skills and athletic and/or academic scholarships.

That’s something we should all be proud of.