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Occidental, CA, USA



Therapeutic Movie Review Column

By Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT

Bend it Like Beckham

Director: Gurinder Chadha
Producers: Gurinder Chadha, Deepak Nayar
Screenwriters: Paul Mayeda Berges, Guljit Bindra, Gurinder Chadha
Stars: Parminder K. Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Anupam Kher, Archie Panjabi, Juliet Stevenson, Ameet Chana Mulroney, Len Cariou, Howard Hesseman, Kathy Bates
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2003


This movie tells the story of high-school senior Jesminder. Her Indian parents emigrated from Africa to England, where her dad works at Heathrow airport. They live in the middle-class suburb of Hounslow, under the flight path of arriving jets.

The British-born Jess is about to enter college and is encouraged by her strict parents to emulate her soon-to-be-married older sister Pinky. Jess is a fairly typical teenager. Her source of rebellion is to play soccer. In her family's living room is a large portrait of a Sikh spiritual leader, but above Jess' bed is her own inspiration--the British soccer superstar David Beckham. To Beckham's portrait she confides her innermost dream, which is to play for England.

However, although her parents tolerated her sports passion when she was younger, they now believe she should become serious about her life and prepare for the future. That means giving up "children's games" for cooking lessons, marriage, and university studies. They forbid her from playing any more. An Indian girl should not play soccer, since the game consists of "displaying your bare legs to complete strangers." The preparations for her sister's wedding only underscore the liabilities of Jess's unladylike behavior. Her mother says: "Who'd want a girl who plays football all day but can't make chapattis?" "Anyone can cook aloo gobi," Jess responds, "but who can bend a ball like Beckham?"

The edict to stop playing soccer comes just as Jess has taken up an invitation from a white classmate, Juliette, to try out for an all-girls' soccer team. The coach, a young Irishman named Joe, thinks she's brilliant and offers Jess the opportunity to play for a semi-pro team. Her parents are appalled. The promise of an upcoming visit from an American soccer scout, and the potential to play professionally, keeps Jess sneaking back to the field for more soccer.

In the locker room, Jess finds herself schooling the white girls on what it means to be her: "Indian girls aren't supposed to play football," she explains.  "That's a bit backwards," observes one of her teammates. Jess knows exactly what it is: "It's just culture, that's all."

Jess and Jules develop a friendship, through which the film explores the differences in their respective backgrounds and the ways they navigate their parents' rather typical fears -- of other cultures and changing times.

         Jess's father regrets that he gave in to social demands when the British in Africa laughed at his regular use of a turban and refused to allow him to enter into their cricket competitions. Rather than use his resentment to fight for his daughter, he tries to pass on his disillusionment. But "things are different now," Jess tells him, and eventually he sneaks into the crowd at a match to see for himself.

Several crises emerge when Jess and Jules both fall for their soccer coach. When Pinky's future in-laws spot Jess and Jules on a street corner, displaying more affection publicly than is seemly, the wedding is called off. Jules' mom fears that Jules is a lesbian, and Jess' parents (believing short-haired Jules is male), think Jess is intimate with a white boy. After these issues get cleared up, new complications develop when the date chosen for Pinky's wedding is the very day that Jess is scheduled to play in the most important match of the season.

All of these conflicts come to a head in a colorful finale that crosscuts between a final football match and the traditional wedding. Jess and Jules take their team to victory against all odds. The cultures continue to clash, but in ys that are increasingly responsive to one another.

Cinema Alchemy

My 30-year old client, Rashmi, came to therapy for help with her confusion around professional and relationship goals. She saw herself as bi-sexual. Rashmi felt unhappy in her current relationship with a woman. She also felt stuck at work, although she was very successful and well regarded at her workplace.

         Rashmi's parents had immigrated into the US from India right before she was born. My client emphasized that she feels very loyal to her traditional family. Rashmi contemplated whether she might not be able to emotionally open up to her girlfriend because her parents would not approve of this relationship if they knew about it. She wanted to leave her job and start graduate school at a university on the East Coast. Although her parents were supportive toward her carrier ambitions in general, Rashmi believed that they did not approve of her plans to move far away from her family. It saddened her that she has to hide major aspects of her life from them. Rashmi even wondered whether an arranged marriage would bring her happiness and the closeness to her family she was yearning for.

My client also told me that she had not openly rebelled as a teenager. After seeing Bend it like Beckham, Rashmi thought that she had missed the opportunity to stand up to her parents, like Jess, and to communicate her dreams to them.

When I asked her whether she might consider starting this communication now, Rashmi responded that she would try if she knew how. She was afraid that her parents "wouldn't know what she was talking about because they live in a completely different world". I suggested an "experiment": to watch Bend it like Beckham together with her parents and see whether this might help start the dialog that Rashmi was yearning for.

My client came to her next session pleasantly surprised how relatively easy it was to start talking with her parents after watching the movie. The film had served as a catalyst for Rashmi to find the courage and share her dreams about graduate school. Her parents listened and even expressed support. This lifted a big weight from Rashmi's shoulders. Pursuing her professional goals didn't mean she had to sacrifice her family bond.

Sensing her parents' caring sparked new hope in Rashmi about being able to introduce her girlfriend to them at some point. Consequently her relationship improved.

Theoretical Contemplation

Like in the movie, Bend it like Beckham, Rashmi's family was caught in a typical dynamic of immigrant families, when the traditional parents try to push their conventional expectations onto their children who have been born into a different cultural world.

         As in her case, communication between clients and their family is often strained because they try to communicate a concept that is unfamiliar to other members of their family. A film can introduce understanding through readily grasped images. It serves as a metaphor and therefore represents more accurately feelings and ideas that a client had trouble putting into words.  

         This can also be applied to work with couples and families. In combination with systems oriented therapy, watching films that show family or other relationship dynamics, and comparing with them, helps clients

•  understand their problem as a function of being part of a larger system

•  identify how they had or had not satisfactorily adjusted in their system

retrieve or learn necessary attitudes, perceptions, behaviors, etc. to meaningfully connect or reconnect with others (e.g. improve communication)


• Ask clients to choose a film with a message they want to convey to their partner or family.

•  If they cannot think of a movie, help them with their choice using film indices (e.g. from

•  Encourage clients to watch the film together with their partner or family and explain to them why they picked that particular film. This helps clients to enter into a more productive conversation about issues they were not able to communicate before.


Birgit Wolz wrote the following continuing education online courses;

Cinema Therapy - Using the Power of Movies In the Therapeutic Process, which guides the reader through the basic principles of Cinema Therapy.

Cinema Therapy with Children and Adolescents - This course teaches Cinema Therapy with young clients. It includes numerous movie suggestions, which are categorized according to age and issues. It serves therapists, teachers, and parents.

Positive Psychology and the Movies: Transformational Effects of Movies through Positive Cinema Therapy - This course teaches how to develop clinical interventions by using films effectively in combination with positive psychotherapy. It serves for mental health practitioners and anybody who is interested in personal growth and emotional healing.

Therapeutic Ethics in the Movies - What Films Can Teach Psychotherapists About Ethics and Boundaries in Therapy, which covers: confidentiality, self-disclosure, touch, dual relationships and out-of-office experiences (i.e., home visits, in-vivo exposures, attending a wedding, incidental encounters, etc.)

Boundaries and the Movies - Learning about Therapeutic Boundaries through the Movies, which covers informed consent, gifts, home office, clothing, language, humor and silence, proximity and distance between therapist and client, and, finally, sexual relations between therapist and client.

DSM: Diagnoses Seen in Movies - Using Movies to Understand Common DSM Diagnoses.

Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual (PDM) - A New Approach to Diagnosis in Psychotherapy