Tuesday, June 05, 2007


GRACIE (Davis Guggenheim, 2007)

High school soccer star Johnny Bowen (Jesse Lee Soffer) is the pride and joy of his family. His younger siblings, two brothers and sister Gracie (Carly Schroeder), idolize him. Dad Bryan (Dermot Mulroney) seemingly devotes every free minute after work at the moving company to helping Johnny reach his potential.

While the loss of a child will rattle any family, Johnny's accidental death in a car crash threatens to ruin the Bowens. Gracie is especially vulnerable. She lost her best friend and biggest supporter. In GRACIE she decides that the best way to honor the memory of her brother is to earn a spot on the boys' soccer team and help defeat their rival.

GRACIE is set in 1978 South Orange, New Jersey, a time and place where the local school district didn't have an organized girls' team nor the open attitude about a female being tough enough to play with the boys without getting seriously injured. Her father is opposed to the idea. He refuses to train her, but when Bryan and her mother Lindsay (Elisabeth Shue) notice Gracie heading toward trouble, he relents, helps with the petition to the school board, and puts her through the same paces he did with Johnny.

The inspirational sports movie formula is so well known anymore that it is almost beside the point whether or not such films are based on true stories. Begin with an underdog base. Add a couple rounded tablespoons of social and familial doubt, a generous pinch of grit, and a ribbon of period rock and roll. Top with a sprinkling of fortuitous coincidence to align events just so for maximum emotional effect. Serve warm with tissues on the side for damp eyes.

In the case of GRACIE, the film is inspired by real events from Elisabeth Shue's life. GRACIE is a family affair, with her brother Andrew playing a small part as an assistant coach and getting a story credit and huband Davis Guggenheim directing. It's dedicated to her brother William, who died in an accident, although not in the kind of timeline employed to increase the film's heart-tugging appeals.

GRACIE sticks rigorously to the sports movie recipe, which is somewhat disappointing considering that the bulk of the story is fictionalized. There's a reassuring quality in anticipating every step Gracie will take until she makes her goal--literally, in this case--but it drains the film of surprises.

Fortunately, the training session montages and appeals to skeptical coaches and school board members are kept at bay until GRACIE'S second half. The stronger first half explores the unraveling of the Bowen family, specifically Gracie's slide from the bright, cheerful girl she was before her brother died. Certainly the film is about her athletic accomplishment, but moreover GRACIE deals with a broken father-daughter relationship in a way that is more uplifting than anything achieved on the field. Bryan says some terrible things, what he believes to be hard truths rather than putdowns, and fails to see how Gracie is desperately reaching out to him at this painful time.

Making the team and playing in the big game grab the headlines, but the repaired relationship at the heart of GRACIE shows that there are bigger prizes than kicking a ball around a field.

Grade: B-

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