Gender Roles – Women
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Women: 5 Stars
Jessminda is a modern girl who is torn between pursuing her dreams and honoring the traditional values of her family. When she realizes that she won't be able to persuade her parents to support her interest in soccer, she takes the bold step of pretending she's found a summer job and sneaking off to play soccer in secret.
Jessminda's friend Jules is another independent and ambitious young woman. Although she comes from a typical British family, she too struggles with outdated Western notions about how a young woman ought to dress and behave. Instead of chasing boys as her mother prefers, Jules puts all her energy and effort into being discovered by an American scout and making a career as a professional soccer player.
Gender Roles - Men: 3.5 Stars
The girls’ coach, Joe, started coaching women’s soccer after a knee injury that put an end to his own career. Joe takes his job seriously and never seems embarrassed or unhappy about the fact that he’s coaching women athletes instead of men. He’s incredibly open with Jessminda, and isn’t afraid to share stories with her about his failed relationship with his father. And when he learns that her parents don’t support her interest in soccer, her respectfully approaches them and attempts to change their minds rather than encouraging her to continue lying to them. By all accounts, Joe is a respectful, mature adult whose ambitions aren’t restrained by social norms about what it means to be a man.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 4 Stars (Spoilers)
Bend it Like Beckham puts a courageous young Indian girl at the center of its story - a story that has far more to do with independence and culture than beauty or romance. The film includes a brief scene during which Jessminda is ashamed to run out onto the soccer field in shorts, due to an ugly scar she received while cooking. Rather than turning Joe away, the scar becomes an opening for them to discuss their similar family histories and begin forming a bond. Joe encourages her not to dwell on what the scar looks like, to be grateful for the fact that it doesn’t keep her from playing the game that she loves. Jessminda takes his advice and doesn’t think about it again. She never lets the scar interfere with her happiness.
Jess’s friend Jules on the other hand, spends a good deal of the film in sports bras or short shirts with her mid-riff showing. She’s a tall, thin woman, who even appears unhealthy in some scenes. And while much of the bare skin may be unnecessary to the plot, it’s worth noting that Jules doesn’t end up with Joe, despite her repeated efforts to attract his attention. He’s already formed a connection with Jessminda that runs deeper than midriffs and make-up.
Plot: 4.5 Stars
Jess is given a few opportunities to be a hero on the soccer field. But the moments where she displays true bravery and fortitude are in standing up to her parents and sister. Jess finds herself in the difficult position of trying to fit into two very different worlds. She struggles to convince her parents to come around to her point of view before her lies or rebellion damage these relationships beyond repair. In many ways, it takes more personal strength to take a stand against those that you love, than to challenge the opinions of outsiders. And by the end of the film, Jessminda succeeds in finding a way to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Jessminda also displays some impressive fortitude in working to heal her broken relationships with Pinky and with Jules. Although these relationships are difficult and even hurtful at times, she understands their importance and fights to keep them intact.
Character Development: 5 Stars (Spoilers)
Jessminda isn’t so bold with her family when the film begins. But after she meets Jules and gets a taste for playing on a real soccer field, with a real team, something that was nothing more than a casual pastime becomes a full-fledged ambition - something that she might do and excel at for a long time to come. Jess makes some mistakes along the way. She not only lies to her family, but also gets involved with Joe in a way that threatens her friendship with Jules. But all of the obstacles she encounters only help her grow as a person and lead her towards her decision to finally be honest with her parents and to put her sister’s happiness on her wedding day ahead of her own needs. At the end of the day, Jess isn’t forced to choose between her family and her love of soccer, because her father finally allows her the freedom to do what makes her happy. And it’s clear that she finds a happier, more satisfying version of freedom by obtaining her family’s blessing, than she ever would have found through simple and unadulterated rebellion.
Love: 5 Stars
Jessminda and Joe don’t fall for each other in an hour, or even in a few days. One of the things that Bend It Like Beckham does exceptionally well is take the time to flesh out these characters, to explore the things that make them unique and show us why they’re drawn to each other. Jess and Joe share stories about trying to please their parents and the difficult task of knowing when to be true to your family and when to be true to yourself. While they each strike a different balance, their common experiences with being hurt and dissatisfied at home brings them closer together. We can easily see how they begin to feel validated by each other, even if not truly understood or accepted by the families that raised them.
Friendship: 3.5 Stars
Bend It Like Beckham provides a strong sense of friendship between Jess and Jules that goes beyond their love of soccer and is strong enough to survive an uncomfortable fight over their mutual attraction for Joe. While there is some name-calling and bruised feelings over Joe, the girls are ultimately able to heal their relationship. It’s a bit disappointing that Jess and Jules never have an in-depth conversation about what happened. That they never talk about things like trust, loyalty or how to be honest with each other in the future. They seem to reconcile based on nothing more than the passage of time and the pressure and importance of the upcoming game. It’s still encouraging, however, that the episode over Joe wasn’t nearly enough to break the bond between them.
Jessminda also has a friend named Tony that encourages and supports her all through the film. He invites her to play soccer with him and his guy friends in the park, sticks up for her when they make fun of the scar on her leg and never diminishes her talents. Tony and Jess clearly have a friendship of mutual respect and support, that isn’t influenced in any negative way by sex or gender.
Room for Improvement:
Language and Sexual Content
Language and Sexual Content: 2 Stars
The women in Bend it Like Beckham occasionally use some pretty harsh words with one another. Most notably, both Pinky and Jules call Jessminda a "bitch" in moments where they’re feeling hurt and exposed. It’s unfortunate that neither Pinky nor Jules apologizes for this language. That there is never any acknowledgement of why this word is hurtful or any sort of meaningful reconciliation. Thankfully, the incidents are few and short-lived, and not enough to override the more empowering messages of the film.
Family: 2 Stars
Both Jessminda and Jules come from families that still embody stereotypical ideas about male and female roles within the family. In both households, the father is the ultimate authority. The mothers exercise their limited dominion over the social realm, encouraging their daughters to be attractive and marriageable. It’s refreshing that the fathers are (eventually) more supportive and encouraging of their daughters’ broader ambitions, but there’s still a fair amount of inequality in the family dynamics of both households.
Jessminda is a talented soccer player whose dreams come true when she lands a spot on a local girls' soccer team. But her traditional Indian family expects her to behave like a "proper young woman" and will never approve of her playing sports. With some encouragement from her new friend, Jules, Jessminda keeps the soccer team a secret from her parents. But things start to get complicated when Jess and Jules both take an interest in their coach, Joe. To make matters worse, Jess soon learns that the team's final match is scheduled for the same day as her sister's wedding.
Kelly is a labor law