I’ve seen this movie time and again, but somehow I never get tired of watching it. Of course I’ve only seen Gracie once, but the story is popped out of the same mold as most other feel-good sports flicks. The recipe is so simple that it’s easy to screw it up, but when they’re done right they build to nice little moments that always leave the little kid in me wanting to stand up and cheer. Gracie isn’t the best example of a triumph, but to call it a failure would be downright cynical.
Gracie Bowen, played by the exceptional Carly Schroeder, has grown up in the shadow of soccer. Her father (Dermot Mulroney) was a college player. Her older brother Johnny (Jesse Lee Soffer), with whom she is particularly close, is a star player for his high school team. Her two younger brothers aspire to play as well. The family eats and sleeps the game. The year is 1978, though, a time when girls playing soccer was considered a joke, leaving the tomboyish Gracie to sit on the sidelines and cheer with the other girls.
The family suffers a heavy blow when Johnny is killed in a car accident while driving home with some of his teammates after barely losing the championship game to their bitter rivals. His presence is sorely missed and the devastated family begins to fall apart, in particular Gracie and her father. Gracie decides that the best way to honor his death is to take up his favorite sport, not easy since according to her friends and neighbors she doesn’t have the right equipment: a boy’s body. Even her family has a hard time supporting her efforts, each for their own personal reasons.
Getting onto the boy’s team is a tricky proposition for Gracie, and one that leads the film down a path of cliché and predictability. But heartfelt acting and well paced moments of victory and defeat keep the movie from becoming tiresome. As soccer films go, it’s a heck of a lot better than watching Amanda Bynes dressed up like a guy in She’s The Man and then pretending to writhe in pain after taking a soccer ball to the crotch.
There’s an almost bizarre history to Gracie, one that feels at the same time both heart warming and incestuous. The story is based somewhat on the true life family experiences of the Shue family, a clan who are no strangers to the entertainment industry.
Elisabeth Shue, upon whom the character Gracie is based and who earned an Academy Award nomination for her turn in Leaving Las Vegas, stars in the movie as the family’s mother figure. Elisabeth really did play as the only girl on her school’s soccer team and her older brother really was killed, though it happened not in high school but when he was 24. Andrew Shue, Elisabeth’s real life younger brother, hasn’t done much since “Melrose Place” exploded about ten years ago, be he also appears in the film and had a hand in writing the script. Director Davis Guggenheim, the man who won an Academy Award for making Al Gore seem moderately interesting in An Inconvenient Truth also happens to be Elisabeth’s husband.
OK, that’s all a little confusing, but in a nut shell, this is a movie written by a family, about the family, starring the family and directed by someone who married into the family. This is clearly a close knit bunch and their camaraderie shines through. They may not make the greatest filmmaking team, and there are plenty of problems here, but I get the feeling that the Shue's don’t really care. It’s almost like they’ve carved out a their own gift of remembrance for themselves, and the fact that an audience (which would no doubt include young female soccer fans) is able to enjoy it with them is just icing on the cake.