Bonding With My Dad Over MST3K and Learning The Value of B-Movies

Tomorrow is Father’s Day. My father passed away nearly 20 years ago. So it will be a tough day emotionally. But I plan on honoring his memory with a Mystery Science Theater 3000 marathon. You see, my dad introduced me to that show and helped teach me the value of B-movies.

Growing up, Saturdays were the day my dad and I spent together. Usually we’d run a few errands in the morning while listening to Car Talk in the background (that’s where I got most of my knowledge about cars from). We would usually go our separate ways after that.

But one day I walked through the living room and saw him watching some show with a silhouette of talking characters on the bottom of the screen. Perplexed, I asked my dad what he was watching. He explained the concept of the show: a human was marooned in space with some robot companions and mad scientists forced them to watch the worst movies ever made. To keep from losing their minds, the characters talked back to the screen and mocked the cinematic turkey of the week.

I guess all those years of watching Star Trek episodes on the Sci-Fi Channel rubbed off on my dad, because he branched out to the network’s other programming, MST3K included.

The first episode I watched was Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders in case you’re wondering. Well, the show grew on me very quickly. It became our Saturday ritual to enjoy MST3K together. It was during that time that I developed my twisted sense of humor (although I got some of that from my mom too) and gained an appreciation for B-movies.

Anyone that has seen MST3K knows that the movies the characters were forced to endure weren’t just bottom of the barrel. They scraped the bottom of the barrel. But my dad would often point out that the low-budget movies often had more imagination than some of the movies currently in theaters. Sure Manos was a dumpster fire. But you’d never seen anything like it. I’m not saying I would go out of my way to seek it out, but it at least gave me something I didn’t expect.

Over the years I’ve found myself going back to MST3K for nostalgia and laughter. To this day, I can’t help but enjoy a good B-movie when I come across it. Sometimes the movies screened on MST3K even show up on Turner Classic Movies, which allows me to work on my own riffing skills as I do my own commentary on Twitter.

While I laugh at the cheap sets, special effects, bad acting, etc., I have a special place in my heart for B-movies. It’s fun to see what people come up with using their imagination and a shoestring budget. While the end product may not be on par with, say, Casablanca, it usually is entertaining in its own cockeyed way.

It’s worth noting that my dad also routinely rented Godzilla movies for my brother and I. Something about a giant monster stomping around Tokyo was appealing to me as a kid. And I’m still a devotee of Kaiju movies.

I miss those Saturdays with my dad learning about cars from Car Talk and the art of movie riffing from MST3K. I miss my dad’s laugh. I just really miss my dad. But I’ll always treasure the time we had together, especially those Saturdays when we enjoyed spending time with Joel, Mike, the bots and the Mads.

Saving Private Ryan: A Reflection

This Memorial Day Weekend you’ll likely see lots of war movies on TV. While I’ve seen a great many of them, the one that has stayed with me the most is Saving Private Ryan. Like another classic war movie, All Quiet On The Western Front, Saving Private Ryan raises real questions about the morality of war and gives us a brutal look at the realities of combat.

The first 25 minutes of Saving Private Ryan for me is the most visceral war footage I’ve ever seen. The re-creation of the storming of Normandy on D-Day is bloody, chaotic and absolutely chilling. This is not a movie that glamorized war in any way, shape or form. It leaves you in awe of the brave people who went through it. Director Steven Spielberg makes a few very wise but unconventional choices during that sequence. Filming in a desaturated visual style, so it feels like news imagery of the time, is very effective. Another is not using action music during that sequence. His frequent collaborator, John Williams, delivered his usual quality work. But it’s not used to ratchet up the drama. Using a score would have taken viewers out of the action. Finally, the way that whole sequence was shot made you feel how chaotic and horrifying it must have been for soldiers who were there.

Some people say the first 25 minutes are great, but the rest isn’t much to write holt about. I couldn’t disagree more. The rest of the movie, which follows Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) as he leads a mission to locate Private James Ryan (Matt Damon). All of Ryan’s brothers have been killed in action, and the government wants to spare Ryan’s mother any further pain.

This is where Saving Private Ryan cements its greatness. We don’t follow a bunch of quirky characters through battle and none of it feels like fun. The soldiers openly question the validity of their mission and we see over the course of the story a realistic portrayal of the affect combat has on people. One of the most powerful moments of the movie is a speech by Captain Miller where he wonders if his wife will even recognize him when he returns home, bringing the psychological toll of war home to modern audiences.

Saving Private Ryan is a war movie that stays with you. It’s up there for me with Paths of Glory, All Quiet On The Western Front, The Thin Red Line and Platoon. It isn’t just content to show us the horror of combat. It’s a deeply philosophical look at the morality of war. And it manages to be thoughtful instead of preachy. The technical quality of the movie isn’t surprising since Spielberg is one of our most gifted directors. But the philosophical aspect of the movie is. And that’s why it’s still a masterpiece almost 25 years later.

31 Days of Oscar Viewing Guide: 4/25-5/1

It’s the last week of 31 Days of Oscar. Here are my daily viewing recommendations.

Day 25. Silverado

The western has become an almost forgotten genre. And that’s really a shame. One of the people keeping the western alive is Kevin Costner. In Silverado, he gets to pay homage to the genre in a tongue and cheek way. This is a movie that has a lot of fun with western cliches. That’s no surprise, given that the director and co-writer is Lawrence Kasdan. Silverado has gained a cult following over the years. And it’s easy to see why.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: The Spanish Main.

Day 26. Stage Door

There’s something about backstage movies that is endlessly appealing. And Stage Door is a great example. It follows the ups and downs of actresses living in the same boarding house. Two of them are played by Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. Stage Door has a sharp sense of humor. But it doesn’t shy away from the dark side of show business.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: A Stolen Life.

Day 27. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

Few actresses have been as versatile as Barbara Stanwyck. She could comedy, drama, westerns…But film noir Barbara Stanwyck is my favorite Barbara Stanwyck. In The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, she plays a cold businesswoman haunted by a crime she committed and covered up as a child. The cast includes Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott and Kirk Douglas.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Sunrise At Campobello.

Day 28. Them!

I love a good creature feature. And Them! is one of the best creature features ever made. A New Mexico town is overrun by giant ants. And while that premise is ridiculous, the movie is fun and has some great special effects. The giant ants are believable. And the human characters aren’t just there to prop up the visuals.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: The Third Man.

Day 29. The Truman Show

Reality TV is everywhere these days. But, once upon a time, a movie satirized it brilliantly. That movie was The Truman Show. It features Jim Carrey in one of his best performances as Truman Burbank. He leads a seemingly ideal life as an insurance salesman in a typical American town. One day Truman discovers cameras everywhere he looks and that his life is a 24/7 reality show. The Truman Show is satire of the highest order. And it’s one of the best movies of the 90s.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: 12 Angry Men.

Day 30. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking love stories ever told. It’s a musical, but not a traditional one. The dialogue is sung-through. It was photographed in glorious three-strip Technicolor. And you owe it to yourself to see the best print of it possible on the biggest screen you can.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Victor/Victoria.

Day 31. The Wizard of Oz

Gone With The Wind may have won Best Picture over the strong crop of films from 1939. But The Wizard of Oz deserved the honor IMHO. It’s a timeless musical that continues to be discovered and loved by generation after generation. And there are multiple reasons for that. There’s Judy Garland’s star turn, the great songs and the great look of the film, to name a few. If there is one Hollywood movie that I’m certain will remain a classic 100 years from now, this would be it.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Z.

31 Days of Oscar Viewing Guide: 4/18-4/24

Here are my picks for the next week of 31 Days of Oscar.

Day 18. Mystery Street

Mystery Street is not only a super noir film. It was also a movie ahead of its time. The movie was one of the first to delve into forensic science, which was fairly new in 1950. Mystery Street is a very involving police procedural. And it features a stellar performance by Ricardo Montalban as the lead detective on the case.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Ninotchka.

Day 19. Now, Voyager

The subject matter of Now, Voyager could have easily become a melodramatic soap opera. But the cast elevates the material and makes it a timeless classic. Bette Davis is Charlotte Vale, a mousy young woman constantly being bullied by her controlling mother (Gladys Cooper). Charlotte has a nervous breakdown and is treated by Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains). When she heads home after her treatment, she meets and is romanced by Jerry (Paul Henreid) on her ship voyage home. Superbly acted, it’s a must-see.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: On The Waterfront.

Day 20. Papillon

Anyone that says Steve McQueen can’t act never saw Papillon. McQueen gives his best performance in this movie as a prisoner serving a life sentence in a French Guyana penal colony. He befriends fellow prisoner Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman). The two plot a daring escape. A brutal look at prison life, Papillon is a movie that stays with you long after it’s over.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Passion Fish.

Day 21. The Philadelphia Story

What’s not to like about The Philadelphia Story? The script is witty, it had a great cast and it’s just a riot from start to finish. Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart only made this one movie together. And it’s a complete winner. Socialite Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) is getting remarried. Her ex-husband CK Dexter Haven (Grant) comes in to crash the ceremony. Stewart plays a reporter assigned to cover the wedding. The chemistry of the entire cast is sublime. It’s a quintessential screwball comedy.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Poltergeist.

Day 22. Psycho

Halloween may have been the first full on slasher movie. But Alfred Hitchcock laid the groundwork for the genre in Psycho. By now we all know the story. Secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) embezzles $40,000 from a client of her employer and goes on the run. She ends up checking into the Bates Motel run by Norman (Anthony Perkins). She checks in. But she doesn’t check out. While Perkins wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, he delivers one of the most chilling performances in the history of cinema. To this day he remains an underrated actor. And that’s a shame. But no one who Psycho can forget his performance.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Pygmalion.

Day 23. Rashomon

It’s hard to pick one movie as a favorite from Akira Kurosawa as a favorite. But, if you twist my arm, my answer is Rashomon. It was the movie that got the Academy to add a Best Foreign Language Film category. In the movie, multiple people tell their version of a crime. A bride is raped and her samurai husband is murdered. We get multiple versions of the same story. It’s a fascinating look at human behavior and how we see what we want to see. What really happened? Kurosawa leaves us to sort it out. And that is one of his n many strokes of brilliance.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Romeo and Juliet.

Day 24. The Sea Wolf

Another Edward G. Robinson movie makes my list. Based on Jack London’s novel of the same name, The Sea Wolf stars Robinson as the ruthless Wolf Larsen. Larsen is the captain of The Ghost, a sealing schooner. Larsen’s crew fishes Ruth (Ida Lupino), George (John Garfield) and Humphrey (Alexander Knox) out of the sea. Larsen more or less holds them prisoner, refusing to make contact with other ships or put them ashore. The Sea Wolf is a too often overlooked masterpiece by Michael Curtiz. And Robinson as Wolf Larsen gives Captain Bligh a run for his money.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Shaft.

31 Days of Oscar Viewing Guide: 4/11-4/17

Here’s my weekly viewing guide for TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar.

Day 11. In The Heat of the Night

In The Heat of the Night is one of Sidney Poitier’s most iconic performances. Abs that’s saying a lot! His character, Det. Virgil Tibbs, starts off being arrested for the murder of a prominent businessman. Once he clears his own name, he teams up with racist police chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger), to dolce the crime. Packed with great performances top to bottom and skillfully directed by Norman Jewison, In The Heat of the Night is a riveting crime drama and a powerful time capsule of the tumultuous late 60s.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Inherit The Wind.

Day 12. It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Sometimes you just need pure escapism. And boy does this movie deliver exactly that. There’s barely a dull moment in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. It follows the hapless adventures of a group of motorists and their quest to find the buried loot when they happen upon the crash scene of a reckless motorist who tells them about it as he takes his last breath. The movie has one great gag after another, an all-star cast and some inspired cameos. My favorite of the bunch is Peter Falk.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Johnny Belinda.

Day 13. Key Largo

I love film noir. And Key Largo is quintessential noir. This was the last onscreen pairing of Bogie and Bacall. And it has Bogie going toe to toe with Edward G. Robinson. It also has Claire Trevor, Lionel Barrymore and was directed by John Huston. You can’t ask for more than that!

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Kings Row.

Day 14. Leaving Las Vegas

My day 14 pick is also my insomniac theater pick. Nicholas Cage has become a punchline of late. And that’s really a shame, because he’s a very gifted actor. And this is the performance that won him an Oscar.

Cage plays a Hollywood screenwriter who loses everything because of his alcoholism. He decides to head to Las Vegas and drink himself to death. While in Vegas, he hires a high end prostitute named Sera (Elisabeth Shue). The initial encounter doesn’t turn out that great. But the two feel a connection. They form an unlikely friendship that turns into love. Both have their own demons. But they decide to live together and make the most of whatever time they have left.

Leaving Las Vegas sounds like a gut wrenching movie because it is. But it’s also a fascinating portrait of two lonely souls. The movie theaters are packed these days with movies that give us chases and explosions. And I love a good action movie. But it’s refreshing once in a while to see a movie that devotes so much time to such authentic characters.

Day 15. Little Caesar

Edward G. Robinson makes my viewing list once again! Little Caesar is an essential pre-Code movie. And it happens to be the one that made Edward G. Robinson a star. As Caesar Enrico Bandello, Robinson delivers a ferocious performance. It’s a great look at the rise and fall of a gangster during Prohibition. Every actor that played a gangster after this movie cage out owes a debt to Robinson. It’s a performance for the ages.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Logan’s Run.

Day 16. Lover Come Back

Doris Day and Rock Hudson made a slew of great comedies together. In Lover Come Back, they work for rival advertising agencies. Day tires of Hudson’s questionable methods to get contracts (including wining and dining prospective clients). She even tries to get him kicked out of the business. It’s an endlessly inventive screwball comedy and one of their most underrated onscreen pairings.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Day 17. Mildred Pierce

Say what you want about Joan Crawford. She may have been a diva. But the woman could act. In Mildred Pierce, she plays a hardworking mother who wants her kids to have the best. She spoils her kids rotten, which is what leads to her getting divorced early in the movie. Mildred becomes an entrepreneur who eventually opens a chain of restaurants. But all that work is unappreciated but her ungrateful daughter Veda (Ann Blyth). All of this could have turned into trashy melodrama. But in the hands of its talented cast, including the wonderful Eve Arden as Mildred’s best friend, it’s an absorbing film noir.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday.

31 Days of Oscar Viewing Guide: 4/4-4/10

TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar festival is now underway. With so many many movies to choose from, I decided to put together weekly viewing guides. For each day of the festival I will pick one must see movie and also a bonus insomniac theater pick for movies airing late that deserve to be seen. So here are my picks for the first full week of the festival.

Day 4: Easter Parade

A musical with Fred Astaire, Judy Garland and Ann Miller? Sign me up! The material is familiar and the outcome predictable. But the chemistry between the actors, the songs and the dancing make this one a flat out winner.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: The Entertainer.

Day 5. Five Easy Pieces

Jack Nicholson has been so good for so long that I think we take him a little for granted. Five Easy Pieces is a reminder of why his career is still going strong to this day. In the movie, Nicholson plays a former concert pianist. He rebels against that career path pushed on him by his family. He instead turns to working a California oil rig, leaving his affluent home life behind. When he visits his sister in Los Angeles, he learns his father is gravely ill. So he heads home with girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black) in tow. The homecoming is a rough one, with lots of family drama boiling to the surface. But it’s handled realistically and not cheap melodrama.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Flower Drum Song.

Day 6. Forbidden Planet

What kind of a respectable science fiction fan would I be if I didn’t make Forbidden Plan my pick for day 6? Released 65 years ago, this is quintessential science fiction viewing. It was the first science fiction movie to be given a significant budget. And it made great strides to get the genre taken seriously. Starring Leslie Nielsen as a starship commander who leads an expedition to Altair IV when contact is lost with a colony of scientists, it features groundbreaking effects and story about ideas rather than mindless action.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Funny Girl.

Day 7. Giant

The first time I saw Giant I admired it rather than loved it. I appreciated the scope of the the story and the performances. But I didn’t get why it was considered such a classic. Repeated viewings have changed that. It’s a complex, fascinating look at the world changing as a whole seen through the eyes of Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) and Jordan (Rock Hudson). It’s about the arc of the lives of those characters, as well as changing gender roles of the time. Elizabeth Taylor’s character is a feminist, something not often seen in movies of the 1950s. The dynamic between Taylor and Hudson is riveting from start to finish.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: The Great Race.

Day 8. The Guns of Navarone

An ambitious war movie with an all star cast, The Guns of Navarone is my pick for day 8. It tells the fascinating story of a team of allied saboteurs who are Thayer with infiltrating a Nazi occupied island. Once they manage to get in, they have to destroy two long-range field guns that are preventing 2,000 trapped British soldiers from being rescued. The cast includes Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, Richard Harris and David Niven.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Guys and Dolls.

Day 9. A Hard Day’s Night

Anyone that knows me knows that The Beatles are my favorite band of all time. So A Hard Day’s Night was an easy pick for me for day 9. The music being great isn’t surprising. But the Fab Four being such natural actors is. We get to see the distinct personalities of John, Paul, George and Ringo. And it’s a fun time capsule of 1964. This movie lets viewers enjoy spending a few days in the life of the iconic band as the deal with screaming fans and the pressure of fame. There’s a joy in A Hard Day’s Night that’s infectious. It’s a must for Beatles fans or anyone who needs a movie to lift their spirits

Bonus insomniac theater pick: Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

Day 10. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame has been adapted for the screen multiple times, including a wonderful musical version by Disney. But the 1939 version remains the gold standard. Featuring Charles Laughton as the tormented Quasimodo and Maureen O’ Hara as Esmeralda, the kind gypsy woman who befriends him, it’s a solid adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel.

Bonus insomniac theater pick: I Married A Witch.

Fierce Women of Cinema: Legally Blonde

Most of the women I’ve covered this month I knew were strong characters from the get go. But the fierce woman I’ve saved for the last week of March is not one of them. That would be Elle Woods from Legally Blonde.

I had zero expectations watching this movie for the first time. But I gave it a go on the recommendation of a friend. They say you should never judge a book by its cover. The same is true of judging a movie by its poster. Legally Blonde, to this day, remains one of the most pleasant film surprises of my life.

Elle Woods turns the dumb blonde trope on its ear in so many great ways. She initially works hard to get into Harvard Law School to impress her boyfriend Warner, who dumps her when he doesn’t think she’s good enough for him in the long run.

But something great happens in her college application process. She finds out how smart and resourceful she is. Legally Blonde follows Elle as she discovers her true potential and reclaims her self worth. Elle is so much more than a vapid sorority girl. Everyone that underestimates her does so at their own peril. And that’s incredibly satisfying.

Another reason Elle made my list is because of how well her character development is handled. For example, I love that she eventually befriends Warner’s girlfriend Vivian. A lesser movie would have had them being petty and tearing each other down. But they eventually bond as classmates.

There’s also the way that the movie ends. After Elle helps win a big case, Warner comes crawling back to her. Rather than give us a predictable happy ending, she rejects him. Elle finally realizes she can do better. A very empowering moment.

Elle is also refreshing because she doesn’t change who she is to be accepted. She doesn’t undergo some physical transformation or conform to what the rest of the student body thinks she should look or act like. Through her academic journey she remains true to herself. Elle takes what other people perceive as flaws in her and uses them as strengths. Even her knowledge of something as seemingly frivolous as perms helps her in the courtroom.

All of this works because it has a sharp script and because Reese Witherspoon is absolutely charming, making it impossible not to root for Elle in and out of the courtroom. Legally Blonde feels like the successor to Clueless, another movie with a blonde haired lead who is much deeper than you expect.

Elle Woods is the feminist icon I never knew I needed.

Fierce Females of Cinema: Belle

I wanted to cover at least one Disney Princess for this look at Fierce Females of Cinema. And it was really tough picking just one. There’s Merida, Pocahontas, Moana, Merida…and, my personal favorite, Mulan, to name a few. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought Belle from Beauty and the Beast deserved to be recognized.

The character of Belle was a significant turning point for Disney Princesses. Most in the past had been passive and defined largely by their romantic relationships. While Belle does find true love at the end, the movie is about so much more than that.

In an era packed with superhero movies, Belle might appear not as impressive at first glance. But Belle’s superpowers are intellectual curiosity and empathy. To me, that is every bit as important to show to young women as physically strong characters like Wonder Woman.

Another reason I chose Belle this week is that the character is seen as an outcast by the other villagers for being bookish and less interested in romance. She’s smart and proud of it. Her father Maurice is an outcast too. And they support each other in spite of what the other villagers think. Beauty and the Beast celebrates being different in a way that never feels forced.

Belle also wins points with me for standing up to misogyny. One of my favorite parts of the movie is early on when Gaston proposes to her in a particularly condescending way and the way she rejects him in the end is very satisfying.

Finally, the whole relationship between Belle and the Beast is handled so well. Anyone that dismisses the love story as nothing more than Stockholm Syndrome really misses the point. Belle and the Beast don’t start off on the right foot. But that’s to be expected at first since Belle is literally a prisoner (taking her father’s place so he can be free).

But Belle and the Beast through their time together end up bringing out the best in each other. Belle eventually charms the Beast out of his anger and the Beast eventually learns to not judge a book by its cover (which is what got him cursed in the first place). This romantic arc is satisfying because it doesn’t just happen magically overnight. It takes these two very different people working through their problems over the course of the movie for us to get the happy ending.

Beauty and the Beast is great for so many reasons. The animation is stellar, the music is superb, it has a great villain, etc. But one of the many reasons it endured is because it has a heroine who shows you don’t have to conform to be accepted by society or find true love. The significance of that message cannot be overstated.

Fierce Females of Cinema: The Silence of the Lambs

This week’s fierce female of cinema is Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs. As played by Jodie Foster, Clearice is a resourceful heroine. I think of her as the precursor to Dana Scully (The X-Files hit the airwaves two years later).

One of the many things that’s refreshing about Clarice Starling is that she isn’t sexualized. Her attire is chic business casual. She doesn’t have a tacked on love interest. Her strongest relationship is with fellow FBI trainee Kasi (Ardelia Mapp). They have just the right amount of screen time to establish them as supportive colleagues.

Clarice’s relationship with mentor Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) is also handled really well. They really feel like equals. The movie never feels preachy about its gender politics. It’s content to let its protagonist’s character development speak for itself, rather than raising it in blunt dialogue passages.

While Clarice doesn’t look physically imposing a la Wonder Woman, she’s a real world superhero in her own way. Her superpowers are her smarts and resourcefulness. But she’s also allowed to make mistakes and be vulnerable. That’s part of what makes her scenes with Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and the movie as a whole so compelling. She’s one of the most relatable movie characters of the last few decades.

The Silence of the Lambs succeeds where its sequel Hannibal fails for a multitude of reasons. One of them is the casting. As much as I love Julianne Moore, there’s just no one that can play the part of Clarice Starling quite like Jodie Foster. Although, to be fair to Moore, the script for Hannibal didn’t give her much to work with. It’s more interested in showing the graphic parts of the novel than involving us in a compelling mystery. And that’s a real shame.

By the end of The Silence of the Lambs, we’re thrilled that Clarice Starling is now a full fledged FBI agent. Anyone that can go through what she does? A wonderful addition to the bureau.

Fierce Females of Cinema: Bend It Like Beckham

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’ll be spotlighting some of my favorite female movie characters. To kick things off (literally and figuratively) I’ll be covering Bend It Like Beckham. Whether you’re into soccer or not, this movie has something for everyone. And a big part of what makes this little movie shine is its magnetic female leads.

Bend It like Beckham follows two young women who want to play professional soccer against the wishes of their parents. One is Jess (Parminder Nagra). She has moved to England with her Indian family. Her parents, especially her mother, want her to give up soccer. In her mother’s mind, Jess should focus on two things: learning how to cook a traditional Indian dinner and attract an Indian husband.

The other girl is Jules (Keira Knightley). She’s a tomboy who plays on the local girl’s soccer team. Jules’ mother wants her to give up soccer because she thinks a muscular, athletic girl will scare of any eligible men.

Jules spots Jess playing soccer in the park with some young men and recruits her to try out for her team: the Hounslow Harriers. Coach Joe (Jonathan Rhys Myers), is hesitant at first. But Jess’ tryout quickly wins him over.

Jess hides her soccer playing from her parents as long as she can. But she’d eventually found out. She ends up sneaking out to play when her parents thinks she’s going elsewhere.

There are cultural and generational clashes in this movie. But they’re handled in very believable ways. One of my favorite developments is how Jess’ dad eventually comes to support her ambitions, not wanting her to give up on her dreams as he did. That revelation in the movie moves me to tears every time.

While a lot of Bend It Like Beckham‘s plot feels familiar, its characters do not. Jules and Jess are a magnetic duo who are a joy to watch in every frame of the movie. Even when the movie gets to the slightly forced plot twist of both of them crushing on their coach, Parminder Negra and Keira Knightley make it compelling because they’re such appealing actresses.

Bend It Like Beckham celebrates following your dreams, Indian culture, the power of friendship and is a fascinating look at bridging cultural/generational gaps. It’s smart and has a great sense of humor. At the center of it all are two fierce women who are the definition of friendship and squad goals. I can’t say enough good things about this little gem of a movie.