Today, I spent some time researching how women’s football has changed people’s opinions of the sport. I ended up having to wade through a bunch of comments by middle-aged men explaining to everyone what it’s like to be a teenage girl. Cause, let’s be honest, they’re the experts. According to these coaches, girls lose interest in sport when they become teenagers because it’s no longer cool. That girls only play football for the “social aspect” and when it gets to the point that it becomes a real sport they give up. I was so fucking mad. These obvious scientists have discovered something in our biology which means we just care about being cool and gossiping. I mean, we should all feel sorry for these guys trying to coach such vapid monsters who could never appreciate them fully. What the fuck? Maybe these men should start thinking about how they can transfer their passion for football onto the girls in their teams? Maybe if they could find a way to connect these girls to football in a stronger way then they could actually be coaching the players of the future? Instead of moaning about how women’s football shouldn’t be compared to men’s football, maybe they should just coach whoever wants to play football and make sure they do it in such a way that they want to carry on? Maybe all of the girls who stop playing are doing so because you’re so shit at coaching girls it puts them off. 2002 was a long time ago but, let’s be honest, Bend It Like Beckham could easily be talking about the present day.
You know how my review of Blinded by the Light this week started off with a rant about people who want to live in a different era? After rewatching Bend It Like Beckham, I think it is safe to say that nobody will be getting nostalgic for the 00s in years to come. I always knew the fashion was dodgy based on some of the delightful outfits I could be found in but see what Keira Knightley was made to wear for that film makes me feel bad. And she kind of irritates me so that’s saying something. Do you remember those tops that’s were essentially just a sheet of material tied around a human being? There’s a scene in which Keira tries to woe Jonathan Rhys Meyers wearing one of those tops and a pair of criminally low jeans. I’m only glad that I was a chubby teenager in those days so my crimes of fashion weren’t quite as horrifying.
I’ve thought about this a lot since last night and I’m quite confident in saying that Bend It Like Beckham is the TBT film that has aged the worst. I think all early 2000 films just look shit now. Not just the clothes but everything. There are shots of actors pretending to play football that are just laughable now. I’m no expert but even I know that sports cameramen have moved on quite a bit since that day. And let’s not even talk about the soundtrack. I know that Mel C (aka Sporty Spice) is “on brand” but did we need to hear her so often? And I remember Jonathan Rhys Meyers being a pin-up in those days but seriously? Is that the standard to which we held ourselves? No offence, he’s a handsome man but he’s clearly grown into his looks.
But the film. I remember this film coming out and everyone going mad for it. It was one of those surprise hits that went over really well with critics and audiences. It put women’s football on the map. Telling the story of Jess, the 18-year-old daughter of Punjabi Sikhs in London, and her obsession with football. Jess doesn’t what her sister wants. She isn’t waiting to be found a husband and slowly ease into her life as wife and mother. Instead, she dreams of bending it like Beckham. Her life changes when he meets Jules, a fellow footie fan, who invites her to a training session. Jess is a natural and the pair quickly become top players. As their team rises through the league, Jess finds it harder to keep her second life a secret from her family.
On paper, it didn’t sound like the kind of thing that would engage audiences but it did. All down to the fact that it’s a charming and sweet story about female friendship and following your passion. It’s a film that slyly tells you something about society and other cultures by hiding it under a feel-good story. It is a light-hearted look at the values and cultures of an Indian family in a changing world. It manages to be critical without ever losing respect for the traditions it upholds. It’s quite the balancing act. However, watching it again, I kind of wish that it had made more of certain topics. The film introduces us to Jess’s gay Indian friend Tony but does very little with him. I know it’s not the point of the story but it seems like an important issue that is swept aside.
There are also aspects that I didn’t quite understand the point of. There’s the whole thing with Jule’s mother mistaking her daughter for a lesbian and going apeshit. This film never really feels sure about what it thinks about lesbians. It tries to make a feeble attempt to say it’s okay but it’s not a confident message. It’s meant to be an easy joke but it just feels misguided. But, overall, this is still a fairly harmless film. It’s fun and a bit silly. The ending is totally Hollywood and over-the-top but that’s okay. It ends with a positive message about the future. Even though we now know that it didn’t make a damn bit of difference.