erasing clouds

Movie Reviews: All the Real Girls and Bend It Like Beckham

by dan heaton

All the Real Girls

Paul (Paul Schneider) is a lady's man who has never really taken the time to build a real relationship. When Noel (Zooey Deschanel) returns from an all-girls boarding school, they strike up a friendship with the potential to be something more. During one early moment, the couple stands apart in an intriguing shot as Noel obviously expects Paul to kiss her. In uncharacteristic fashion, he tries to avoid his feelings and follow a different path from unfortunate past dealings with the opposite sex. In one lengthy shot, we slowly view his defenses crumbling to the possibility of a meaningful relationship. Their first kiss becomes a pivotal moment that could lead to a new path in both of their lives.

All the Real Girls tackles similar issues to many of the typical Hollywood teen love stories, but this tale offers considerably more weight and truth than the usual genre picture. Similar to his debut film George Washington, young director David Gordon Green portrays the bleak industrial landscape of a small town forgotten by the modern growth of the past decades. The time and exact place are unclear, which increases the focus and generates a more universal tale. Supported by a touching, melodic score and Tim Orr's majestic cinematography, the events are moving even when little is happening.

Although the primary focus is Paul and Noel's relationship, other poignant characters appear to increase the film's overall depth. Their love is complicated by Paul's lifelong friendship with Tipp (Shea Whigham), Noel's brother, who knows about his friend's womanizing all too well from their crazy adventures. Paul's mother (Patricia Clarkson) works as a clown at a local hospital and had better goals for life and her son. Both of these characters could fall into the usual traps and become dull caricatures, but Green and Schneider's muted writing style keeps everything spare and understandable. Their success is also due to excellent performances from Whigham and Clarkson, who embody their roles wonderfully.

All the Real Girls progresses at a deliberate pace and allows us to comprehend both Paul and Noel's personalities. The community feels like an actual place where individual's lives will continue beyond the film's running time. Possibly throwaway moments at the bowling alley, a car race, and the hospital are especially funny and touching because they aren't designed simply for cheap laughs. They inform us about the characters while entertaining us with their oddball human quirks. While pulling back slightly from the poetic sequences of his debut feature, Green has improved his storytelling and crafted a memorable drama of surprising emotional complexity.

Bend It Like Beckham

Meeting the expectations of our parents is never an easy task. Their past experiences and acquired values have created a vision of whom their children should become. Even if they have the best of intentions, the generational differences can create a difficult rift to overcome. Such is the case for Jesminder "Jess" Bjamra (Parminder K. Nagra), an 18-year-old Indian girl with amazing athletic gifts in football (soccer to Americans). Her idol is the acclaimed British player David Beckham, and posters of the bald-headed phenom adorn her wall. While schooling the local boys with her agile feet, Jess exudes a joyful energy rarely seen when performing her traditional Indian duties. Unfortunately, her parents do not believe a proper young woman should be playing football. When Jess secretly begins playing for a local team, it causes a rift that could end her sporting days forever.

Bend It Like Beckham is the type of crowd-pleasing film that could draw huge audiences to the theaters this spring. It impressively crosses generational and cultural boundaries and should appeal to a wide array of people. While the issues presented are not overly complex, the universal themes about going your own way and striving to be great are easily accessible. Directed by Gurinder Chadha (What's Cooking), the film avoids the typical conventions and maintains an enjoyable manner throughout its nearly two-hour running time. Although the story revolves around football, it's not really a sports movie in the conventional sense. Its primary focus is two girls and their attempts to reconcile their passions with their unconvinced parents.

Jess' involvement in the Hounslow Harriers football team stems from her discovery by Juliette (Keira Knightly), a British player who quickly becomes a close friend. They both fancy Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Myers), their coach who also faces some issues with his overbearing father. Jess can't date him because he's the coach, but they do share some tender and nicely developed moments. All three young actors are very believable and really sell the story as more than just another teen comedy. Juliette must deal with an overbearing mother who has no understanding of football and believes it lessens her daughter's chances of finding a man. While often exploited for comic relief, their issues never reach a farcical level. The story eventually leads to the big game where the arrival of an American scout could possibly lead to greater things for both girls.

The winner of numerous British awards and film festival honors around the world, Bend It Like Beckham appears in the beginning to be a simpler tale of cultural conflict. However, several poignant moments raise the bar and effectively draw you into the story. One example is an emotional monologue from Jess' father (Anupam Kher), a talented cricket player as a younger man. Playing in England was difficult for him, and he eventually quit the sport in disgust. His statements complicate matters and offer specific reasons for his disapproval. Kher's silent gestures really sell the idea that he loves his daughter and overcome the typical portrayal. The overall result is an optimistic, fun picture that should win over even more cynical viewers.

Issue 13, April 2003 | next article

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds