Title: Bend it Like Beckham
Released: 2002

Although I’ve seen Bend it Like Beckham at least five times, I hadn’t watched it recently—until Jess and Joe made it into the Teen OTP Madness Wild Card competition, and I was reminded of how much I adore the movie.

Sadly, Jess and Joe were beaten by Gilmore Girls’ Lane and Dave, and therefore didn’t make it into the bracket, but one good thing came from that defeat: I was inspired to pull out my lab coat and perform some Science.

Lace up your boots* and put on your safety goggles, we’re going in.

*Cleats, if you’re in the U.S.

The So-Called Plot

While her parents want her to be a “good Indian girl,” Jesminder “Jess” Bhamra wants nothing more than to play soccer football. And when she meets Jules, a girl her age who plays for a local club team, Jess thinks she can have the best of both worlds. That is, of course, until her parents find out. (The whole “having a crush on the coach” thing causes some issues, too.)

Casting Callback

Parminder Nagra as Jess

Jess, the star of the movie, spends much of of the film in emotional turmoil: how can she make her parents proud while following her dream of playing soccer? (And, on top of that, how can she ask them to be OK with her dating a white guy?) Watching her growth through the movie, and all the success that she finds, is totally fist-pump worthy.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Joe

Joe’s the kind of guy that anyone would be hard-pressed not to fall for, regardless of the fact that we don’t really get to know much about him other than he used to be really good at soccer and likes younger women.

On a personal note, this is also the earliest role I remember seeing JRM in, and I was immediately smitten. Joe is such a dreamy character that watching this movie now nearly overwrites JRM’s turn as Valentine in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones from my memory. It’s also the reason I continue to watch him in things like Dracula, even with that whole Valentine thing.

Keira Knightley as Jules

Although I don’t know her personally, I feel like Jules is what Keira really was like in high school: sporty, sweet, and a little sassy, and more of a sidekick than her latter roles would have you believe. This is a completely baseless assumption, mind you, but I’m going to stick with it (#headcanon).

Chemistry Grade: A

From practically the moment they meet, there’s a strong connection between Jess and Joe. Their relationship is totally Romeo and Juliet-esque, in more ways than one, and oh-so-swoonworthy—even if it grows from somewhat improper beginnings. I mean, really:

Cliché Count: 60+

  • Fantasy sequence: 2
  • Sports montage/sequence: 15+ (This is a movie about soccer, after all.)
  • Bucking family/tradition/the “norm” to Be Yourself: 1
  • Overbearing mothers: 2
  • Mean girls: 3
  • Dude bros: 3
  • Girls making “slut” jokes: 2
  • Deep convos with imaginary figures/inanimate objects: 2
  • Culture/tradition sequence juxtaposed with a “modern” sequence: 4
  • Boys acting like idiots to impress girls sequence: 1
  • Stern coach with a heart of gold: 1
  • Lecture about women having to do “girly” things to be true women: 1
  • Shopping montage: 1
  • Teacher/coach crush: 2
  • Sporty girls assumed to be lesbians: 2
  • Lives “ruined” over misunderstanding: 1
  • Inappropriate teacher-student (coach-player) relationship: 1
  • Road trip: 1
  • Club sequence: 1
  • Friends get in fight over liking same guy: 1
  • Gay best friend: 1
  • Faking sick to get out of a family obligation: 1
  • Begrudgingly understanding dads: 2
  • Important events scheduled on the same day: 1
  • Wedding montage: 1
  • Fight sequence: 1
  • Gay best friend acting as beard: 1
  • Nearly impossible dreams coming true: 2
  • Confession of love in an airport: 1
  • Choosing between family/tradition and True Love: 1
  • Celebrity sighting: 1

That is A LOT of clichés. But this movie is still so good, regardless.


Dressmaker: “Don’t worry, Miss Bhamra. Our designs will make even these little mosquito bites look like juicy, juicy mangoes!”

Jess: “Anyone can cook aloo gobi, but who can bend a ball like Beckham?”

Tony: “Well, you fancying your gorah coach is OK with me. Besides, he’s quite fit!”

Paula: “Don’t tell me. The offside rule is when the French mustard has to be between the teriyaki sauce and the sea salt.”

Video Man: “Eyes down. Don’t smile. Indian bride never smiles. You’ll ruin the bloody video.”

Wedding Guest: “Lesbian? Her birthday’s in March. I thought she was a Pisces.”

Joe: “Look, I can’t let you go without knowing.”

Jess: “What?”

Joe: “That even with the distance, and it concerns your family, we might still have something. Don’t you think?”

Soundtrack: Multicultural Early Aughts Time Capsule

After seeing this movie in theaters the first time—I think I saw it at least three, one of which was totally on my own—I ran out and bought this soundtrack (on CD, natch). It features a fabulous mix of traditional Indian music, technoed-up Indian music, and 2000’s pop songs—including two by Posh Spice and Sporty Spice in their solo personas of Victoria Beckham and Melanie C.

(Related: The movie even inspired a Bend it Like Beckham musical. S/O to Mandy W. for alerting me to this news.)

Slumber Party Potential: High

Bend it like Beckham is all about being true to yourself, and finding balance between expectations and dreams. It’s a terrifically fun movie, even if you’re not a sports fan, and is a great example of a true romantic comedy. Plus, it features a whole lot of non-white people, a variety of non-Hollywood-standard cultural events, and characters who could have veered into stereotype but instead feel totally real.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.