Anchor Bay // 2008 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // September 30th, 2008
One mom will do anything to win.
Being a modern single mother is tough. In the past, moms were expected only to work full time, shop, clean, and help with homework. Now, thanks to Soccer Mom, their kids are going to start expecting them to dress up like famous Italian soccer stars and coach their team to the championship. Thanks a lot.
Wendy (Missi Pyle, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is having a hard time keeping it all together after the death of her husband. The worst part is that she's afraid her oldest daughter Becca (Emily Osment, Hannah Montana) is slipping away. Besides having trouble at school, Becca's threatening to quit the one thing she's always loved: soccer. Then a bright ray comes in the form of Lorenzo Vincenzo (Dan Cortese, MTV Sports), an Italian soccer legend who has agreed to coach the girls' soccer team up to the regional finals. It's a dream come true for the teenagers, but when Wendy discovers that Vincenzo has no intention of coaching the team she does the only thing she can think of to keep her daughter from suffering yet another disappointment: She gets an FX-expert pal to make her up to look like Vincenzo so she can coach in his place. Makes sense, right?
Soccer Mom is the first movie I've ever seen that is presented, in part, by Ladies' Home Journal magazine. It's not, however, the first to feature either a parent going to comic extremes to help their kid or a new coach helping a subpar team win a championship, though it may be one of the few that does both.
Soccer Mom is like a cross between Mrs. Doubtfire, The Karate Kid, and Boys Don't Cry. Though it hits all the "family movie" notes -- parents and children reconciled, obstacles overcome, and life lessons out the wazoo -- it also has a weirdness factor other films in the genre can't touch. I know it's probably hypocritical and sexist to think that Robin Williams playing an elderly British woman is hilarious while Missi Pyle playing a hirsute Italian guy is creepy, but I kind of do.
My problem with Pyle as a dude isn't her performance. She's quite good. The problem is that her makeup puts her in an uncanny valley between "she" and "he" where "she" doesn't look enough like the "he" she's supposed to be. As expected, one of the big early scenes is Wendy's first transformation into Lorenzo, complete with music, cross-cuts, shots of her only from the back. And when her friends are finally done and we see her for the first time...well, she looks more like a computer projection of what Wendy and Lorenzo's child would look like than she does Lorenzo himself. It's not a knock against the people who worked hard to make the prosthetics. It's just true. The less-than-canny likeness becomes a problem for the film later on. Even if you accept the "disguise movie" fiction that a transformation that would take eight hours in a make-up chair can be done in five minutes in the back of a mini-van, Soccer Mom relies on a series of mistaken identity gags where the real Lorenzo and the fake one are in the same place at the same time and no one can tell the difference.
Of course, forced suspension of disbelief in a family movie is nothing new. Once you get past the premise and the makeup, Soccer Mom is a middle-of-the-road kids flick with a good message about family -- even if it's the same message found in plenty of better movies. Missi Pyle carries the movie, but hers isn't the only worthwhile performance. Emily Osment handles both the comic and dramatic scenes with an understated quality that make her more believable than the screeching teenage caricatures producers seem to prefer to the real thing. Cortese's sleazy Vincenzo is good hammy fun, as are the rival rich kid villains who apparently play soccer while their brothers are busy training at the Cobra Kai dojo.
With this kind of movie, the "big reveal" at the end is make-or-break time. Though Soccer Mom finds a convincing way to force Wendy's admission, the big disappointment with the final sequence is that the much-anticipated championship game isn't very exciting. The big game should be thrilling, but between a laconic announcer and jittery editing, the girls' moment in the spotlight is never comprehensible enough to be suspenseful.
There's one more strange thing about this movie: Soccer Mom is all about the junk food. For a movie that appears to celebrate kids exercising, we see lots of people eating wings, chips, mozzarella sticks, S'More bars, hot dogs, and pizza. I don't want to go into the subtext, or anything. I just wanted to say it's weird.
Extras on the disc are limited to two sub-ten-minute featurettes: "Heart of Goal," a general overview of the movie you just watched, and "From Mom to Man," an in-depth look at the prosthetics and make-up that transformed Pyle into Faux-renzo. The back of the box also lists Spanish subtitles as a bonus feature. They're certainly there, but...really?
Soccer Mom looks and sounds like the family movie it is, with a high-energy tween beat soundtrack and plenty of bright colors. It gets extra points for being in widescreen, and for spreading the 5.1 surround sound love to the rear speakers on occasion.
By crossing a heartwarming tale of family togetherness with a sports underdog story, Soccer Mom succeeds more than it fails, and ultimately fares better than a lot of its family movie competition. While it's certainly no classic, and requires more suspension of disbelief than certain other parent-prosthetic movies, if you can accept Wendy's inexplicable decision to impersonate a soccer star to win her daughter's heart, I'm sure your kids can, too.
Can soccer games end in a draw?
Review content copyright © 2008 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* "Heart Of Goal" Cast Interviews
* "From Mom To Man"