Director Gurinder Chadha strikes goal with her first major feature, an indie sleeper hit about Jess (Parminder Nagra), an Indian girl raised in London who tries to play on a soccer — sorry, football — team despite her conservative parents’ protests. The spectacularly enjoyable comedy Bend It Like Beckham, named after Brit footballer David Beckham, features a superbly nuanced cast and a hilarious script (comment by a reluctant soccer mom: ”All I’m saying is there is a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one of them without a fella”). Watching Nagra as she effortlessly develops each relationship — railing against her parents (comic talent Shaheen Khan and Bollywood vet Anupam Kher), falling for her coach (the dreamy Jonathan Rhys Meyers), supporting her bridezilla sister (a spunky Archie Panjabi) — it’s hard to believe this is her acting debut. But her most spirited performance is in what’s also ”Beckham”’s best sequence, in which the camera darts between a raucous Indian wedding and a surprisingly fascinating soccer match to a catchy bhangra backbeat.
Chadha gives ”family film” new meaning when she places her sari-clad relatives as extras in several scenes, as well as in a unique DVD extra on how to cook aloo gobi. (”Too much mess in there — what have you done?” Mom scolds when Chadha doesn’t peel her potatoes properly.) But the best part of the DVD is the subtitles, which make the Punjabi terms and strong Brit accents bloody easy to understand.