A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Honesty is the best policy. Don't let anyone stop you from doing what you love or being with whom you love. Perseverance will help you achieve your goals. Family members may not always understand one another, but it's important to keep trying. Parents should support their children's dreams -- even if they're different from what they envisioned for them.
Positive Role Models
Jess and Jules are smart, brave, and athletic. Jess works hard to juggle her family's needs with her own and is willing to sacrifice her own desires for those of her sister and parents. Her father is empathetic and attuned to his daughters' moods. Joe is patient and wants to put in the hard work needed to build a successful relationship. On the other hand, Jules' mother acts in racist and homophobic ways, and her behavior is largely excused -- she never changes.
Directed by a Punjabi Sikh woman who grew up in West London, the film centers around a British Indian Punjabi Sikh family living in Hounslow. Plenty of wonderfully specific references, but they can border on stereotypical -- immigrant parents balk at their daughter's wearing shorts, don't want her playing soccer, say things like "what greater honor is there than respecting your elders," and want her to learn to cook and get married to a nice Indian boy (but not a Muslim, they make clear). One of Jess and Jules' teammates is Black -- she and all the women on the soccer team are confident and non-stereotypical. Disability representation via the main character, who has visible leg scarring from a childhood burn (based on the actor's real history). Another main character has visible scars from knee surgeries. But LGBTQ+ aspects are outdated: When a friend comes out as gay, Jess reacts poorly, responding, "But you're Indian!" and makes her friend sweat before finally concluding that his sexuality is "OK with her." And a mother's fears that her daughter is a lesbian are played for comedy, excusing her homophobic behavior.
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Violence & Scariness
A main character twists her ankle from pushing herself too hard; no injury is seen, but she limps for a bit. Blood on a knee is quickly wiped away during a soccer match. Two men loudly argue and are forcibly held back by a rowdy group of people (played for comedy). A character describes a childhood burn incident (which is based on the actor's true experience) -- scarring is visible. Conflict between family members.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Several characters play soccer shirtless or in sports bras. Bras and cleavage are visible in a lingerie store and when women change in the locker room. Clubbing clothes include backless handkerchief shirts and a bikini top. Characters briefly make out in a car and in a bathroom. A husband motorboats his wife's covered chest during exuberant dancing at a wedding. A key storyline involves romance, as characters have crushes, fight over the same person, and kiss, and people make references to sex but never discuss it in detail.
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A few uses of "s--t" and "bitch," plus "boobs," "hell," "ass," "Jesus" and "God" (as exclamations), "bastard," and "stupid cow." Slurs in passing include "d-key" ("d-ke" used as an adjective) and "lesbo," while a main character is called a "Paki" to her face. Characters call a woman's leg burn "disgusting" (a friend stands up for her). British slang terms include "slag," "shag," "wanker," "prat," "bollocks," "bloody," and "pissed." A few bleeped words in the after-credits blooper reel.
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Products & Purchases
Prominently branded jerseys and soccer field ads include Vodafone, Carlsberg beer, Lucozade, Snickers. Other visible logos include McDonald's, Reebok, Adidas, Cheerios, etc. Jess loves Manchester United because of David Beckham. Characters drive Nissan and Mercedes cars.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Characters drink beer, wine, and whiskey in social settings, including at a nightclub. Jules' father and background characters infrequently smoke.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Bend It Like Beckham is a romantic sports comedy that follows a British Indian teen, Jess (Parminder Nagra), who just wants to play soccer -- though her immigrant parents have other ideas. The movie has strong themes of friendship, teamwork, and courage, as teens learn to be honest and parents learn to support their children's interests and dreams. Expect some swearing (including a few uses of "s--t," "bitch," "hell," and slurs like "Paki," "d-key," and "lesbo") and innuendo, as well as kissing and characters who fight over the same person. Several teens have a beer or a glass of wine, but they drink responsibly and are of legal age in the United Kingdom and Germany, where the scenes take place. Jess hides her soccer-playing from her family and lies to protect her secret, but ultimately she's a driven, ambitious woman who follows her heart's desire. The film stood out for its positive portrayal of a Punjabi Sikh family, especially in 2003 when it was released, but its stereotypes about immigrant parents feel more obvious today, and the way LGBTQ+ material is handled is even more dated. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Spunky and easy to watch, this feel-good movie bridges the distance between old country and new with the deft touch of a David Beckham penalty kick. For any girl whose athletic endeavors were ever questioned by conservative parents, Bend It Like Beckham is a color-drenched fairy tale where you know from the opening credits that the story will end in the "happily ever after" category for plucky Jess. Yes, this sunny little movie is about second-generation Indian families in England striving to maintain traditions that kids, more British than Indian, find increasingly irrelevant. But no matter your cultural background, the central theme that you should follow your bliss no matter the hurdle is universal.
On the one hand, the story might not seem strikingly original, and the script's handling of LGBTQ+ material has not aged well (to say the least). But the colorful tones of the movie, overlit action scenes, and genuine appeal of the characters -- especially Jess -- make this film enjoyable, engaging, and entertaining. Even if the answers seem a bit simple, it's nice to think that complicated relationships and challenges can be resolved with proper communication and the ability to make nice with others.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.