Alive and Kicking: Soccer Matches, Class Struggle, and a Gay Best Friend-Bend It like Beckham Is a Real Crowd Pleaser

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Bend It Like Beckham * Directed and cowritten by Gurinder Chadha * Starring Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Ameet Chana * Opens March 28 in selected markets * Fox Searchlight

Somewhere in the chilly bowels of an Oxbridge University library, some earnest double major in visual arts and sociology must be toiling over a thesis titled "Billy Elliot's Indian Soul Sister: Class, Gender Expectation, and Disapproving Daddies in 21stCentury England."

It is obvious from the evidence presented by Billy Elliot and now Bend It Like Beckham that they are not giving children the proper Barbie and Ken rudiments across the Atlantic. Where else would a coal miner's son have temerity to throw over boxing for ballet dancing? Or, as in Beckham's case, the daughter of an Indian immigrant aspire to be a soccer player?

While her big sister, Pinky, is following her womanly predestination by becoming engaged, contrary Jess Bharara (the daisy-fresh Parminder Nagra) would rather be kicking around the soccer ball with a gay male Indian buddy who passes for straight (Ameet Chana) and a straight girlfriend, Jules (slinky Keira Knightley), whose mother thinks she's a lesbian. Against the wishes of her tradition-bound parents, Jess sneaks off to play with the local girl's league, where real women kick curveballs.

Bend It Like Beckham is the third and least interesting dramatic feature of onetime BBC news reporter Gurinder Chadha (Bhaji on the Beach and What's Cooking? …