Jess is desperate to be a footballer, but her parents have other ideas. When friend Jules convinces her to join a local team, she has to keep it a secret - especially when the final falls on the day of her sister's wedding.
Anything East Is East can do, Bend It Like Beckham can do better. Like that runaway hit, Gurinder Chadha's football-themed comedy is set in Britain's Indian community, but has wide appeal. It, too, is about the tight (some say protective) restrictions imposed by family and tradition, and how the younger generation address this while trying to fit into the modern, multi-cultural world.
Regardless of ethnic background, all teenagers have run-ins with their parents. And, like Jess in the film, if they can't talk to their elders, they'll discuss their dreams with the posters on their bedroom walls. Perhaps Chadha shows more confidence handling the domestic comedy-drama and Bollywood-lite music, dance and colour of the wedding scene than the football footage, but she marshals together the many elements of her film and sustains an infectiously buoyant mood.
As Bhaji On The Beach and What's Cooking? revealed, she has an amazing touch with people. She's on the side of the kids and their parents, never turning the older generation into out-of-touch, stereotypical tyrants. Nagra is tremendously appealing in the lead role, while Knightley and Rhys Meyers add to the sex appeal. As Jules' mum, Juliet Stevenson seems to have wandered straight in from the set of a Mike Leigh movie, confidently telling her tomboy daughter (whom she fears is a lesbian), "There's a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one without a fella."
A feel-good movie with issues relevant to everyone in the audience, Bend It Like Beckham is a real word-of-mouth crowd pleaser. The in-jokes will be lapped up by Asian viewers but, given that Goodness Gracious Me is one of the funniest British comedies on TV, they won't fly over the heads of everyone else. It might yet qualify for the champions' league.
Like an extra time free kick sent over the defensive wall into the back of the net, this is a winner that has come out of nowhere. Delightfully upbeat, it will send you back out onto the street grinning from ear to ear.