The marketing team at Fox Searchlight has plenty of experience promoting films that seem unpromotable, from 1999's ''Boys Don't Cry'' to last year's ''Kissing Jessica Stein.'' But in the case of ''Bend It Like Beckham,'' the challenge started with the title.
A U.K. box office hit, the movie focuses on an Indian-Anglo girl who, much to her conservative family's consternation, dreams of playing pro soccer. Her idol is curveball-kicking David Beckham, real-life star of Manchester United, yet anything but a household name Stateside. Never mind, even, that Beckham is married to the former ''Posh Spice,'' Victoria Adams; when one British media outlet recently ran an item about the film's U.S. profile headlined ''Bend It Like Who?'' it hit the ball right on the head.
Still, Searchlight staffers say that only passing consideration was given to a title change. ''Your first thought is, 'We can't call it that,''' admits marketing president Nancy Utley. ''But when marketing tries to retitle a movie, it usually does not have a happy ending.'' The distributor trusts that word of mouth will offset moviegoers' hesitation on release of the film. The strategy has paid off for Searchlight before: Its 1997 film ''The Full Monty'' grossed $46 million in the U.S.