Judge Katie Herrell gave Gracie a sporting chance, but the movie didn't get a berth on her roster of favorite sports movies.
"Life is one big shit sandwich and we all have to take a bite."
There's a predictable trajectory to Gracie. It's the American Dream meets the American Tragedy with a side of Teenage Rebellion, Sports Hero, and Rocky Family Dynamics. There are a number of better movies about the same topics, but Gracie is a heartwarming tale that caters to an audience seeking a quality family film with a message.
Facts of the Case
Gracie is the only girl in a working-class family with three brothers. Her dad works at a thankless factory job and in his off hours tirelessly, maybe mercilessly, coaches the oldest boy, Johnny, to become a soccer star. When Johnny suddenly dies, the entire family loses its purpose until Gracie announces she's going to take her brother's spot on the all-boys soccer team. Gracie's struggle to prove she can play with the boys rejuvenates the entire family.
From the moment Johnny whispers reassuringly to Gracie that she can do anything, it's obvious that he's not going to be around for very long. The foreshadowing in this movie is so palpable that I was almost saying the lines before the actors.
Johnny was too attuned to his wide-eyed younger sister. He was too amenable to his hard-riding father, a man whose lost dreams of sports stardom manifest themselves predictably in the uber-sports parent. Johnny was too good to live very long, the angel of the family before he was even dead.
Not even a half hour into the movie, the entire family is grappling with his tragic loss. Their grief seems time-lapsed. While their actions throughout the film indicate great loss, the family resumes their normal day-to-day activities very quickly. This didn't seem predictable; this seemed unrealistic.
But the film isn't really about Johnny, although his essence is also palpable. This movie is about Gracie (Carly Schroeder, Lizzie McGuire), who grew up when the existence of a female was still very proscribed. She's expected to quietly go about her day, taking her brothers' ribbing and her father's stony silence with aplomb.
She's supposed to follow her mother's lead, the matronly Elisabeth Shue, who is a nurse at Gracie's school and who folds laundry while giving stony stares to her husband. But it's Mrs. Bowen who has the guts of the family. For all her thick-soled tiptoeing she believes in her daughter and will stand up for her publicly and privately, her proscribed role be damned. It's too bad these glimmers of a strong woman are hidden behind a mother overshadowed by her family throughout most of the movie.
Gracie always followed Johnny's lead, if anyone's. When he dies, she flounders, trying out short skirts, cigarettes, and boys. But all of these escapes leave her feeling more lost; when she finally commits to becoming a soccer star—and she does commit to become a star, not just a player—the movie is renewed, as is Gracie and her family—especially her father.
The dad, played by Dermot Mulroney, is an odd character. He's not heartless, necessarily; he's just not heartwarming. He's a lost man himself and seems sort of surprised that he ended up with a house full of kids and dead-end job. His longish graying hair indicates a man who hasn't totally given up his youth despite the stern realities of adulthood. But that's not to say Mulroney gives the character a lot of depth. He comes across as a silhouette of a character; he's a ghost to his son's angel.
While Gracie's run for sports stardom invigorates her father's actions, it doesn't seem to reach his spirit. And that's true of the movie in general. While there are several tear-jerking moments, the story leaves sort of an emptiness in its wake.
It didn't feel firmly rooted in the '70s, despite a soundtrack (with one perfectly picked Bruce Springsteen song which doesn't seem to be on the soundtrack) and costuming intended to pound the decade home. And it didn't feel firmly rooted in women's liberation or Title IV, despite references to both and a trailer before the movie about a documentary about U.S. women's professional soccer.
Instead Gracie seems to be riding the wave of successful sports movies. It picks and chooses from all the best: Rudy, Bend it Like Beckham, Friday Night Lights. It could have done with a dash of The Replacements to prevent it from becoming too clich éd and predictable.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Really, I'm not the audience for this film. I take women athletes for granted. The days when women weren't able to play sports are something I've only heard about. From that perspective, Go, Gracie! You show 'em.
No amount of success for Gracie overrides the sadness in this movie. But there are a lot of lessons in Gracie. For parents trying to teach their kids those lessons about hard work, believing in themselves, overcoming obstacles, perseverance, etc., there's really no better cheerleader than Gracie.
Guilty. It's sad but true.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• CD-ROM with Commentary by Director Davis Guggenheim, and Elisabeth and Andrew Shue
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